It is not difficult to see just how much the new construction boom is affecting New York City. A walk in any of the five boroughs will reveal more construction sites than has ever been seen before. Obviously, there cannot be construction projects without construction workers, and the recent rise in construction should be treated as a great thing for construction workers.
However, for immigrant workers, especially Latino workers, the latest boost to the New York City construction industry acts as a double-edged sword. The New York State OSHA office took a survey of 150 immigrant workers and found that every worker has experienced poor worker safety situations. It was also noted that half of the workers experienced injuries while on the job, and some even reluctantly revealed that they have long-term injuries from working on New York City projects.
How Immigrant Workers Are Being Affected On Sites
Construction Dive tells the story of a New York contractor called Beacon Restoration that recently reached an agreement to pay 24 immigrant workers approximately $364,000 total in misappropriated wages. In other words, Beacon simply shorted the workers the money and then tried to alter their books to make it look like the workers were paid.
When a company goes to those lengths to try and cheat workers out of money, then the discussion of contractor responsibilities starts to take on a new zeal. Why are contractors cheating immigrant workers out of pay, and why are contractors saving money by ignoring worker safety issues for their immigrant crew members?
Companies Taking Advantage Of A Situation
It is becoming more than an epidemic that many of the construction accidents that occur in New York could be prevented if worker safety was a priority to companies. But companies are taking advantage of a situation created by the need for more workers to work on the growing number of projects.
Construction companies are mistreating illegal immigrant workers because:
- The language barrier prevents workers from complaining to authorities
- Workers are afraid to complain because of their illegal status
- Non-union companies can save money by paying illegal workers in cash
This sort of treatment results in:
- Workers who are not properly trained in safety issues
- Workers who are not given the right type of safety equipment for their jobs
- Workers who will do dangerous jobs without complaining
- Workers who get shorted in pay because they will not bring it up
Why Is This Happening?
There are two primary reasons, aside from trying to pad profits, why construction companies are able to get away with mistreating immigrant workers. The fines involved with these type of offenses are insignificant when compared to the profits these companies are making, and there are not enough inspectors to keep up with the growing number of projects.
Nearly all of the accidents involving immigrant workers occur on non-union job sites, and these are companies that do not police themselves when it comes to safety or ethics. In some instances, companies simply pay the fines and move on to the next violation. There are even instances where companies never pay their fines and are not punished. According to OSHA and the New York City Buildings Department, all of that is about to change.
Is Help Finally On The Way?
When Beacon Restoration was hit with its penalty, OSHA indicated that it wanted to send a message to other offenders that these types of activities will no longer be tolerated. To help fight for immigrant workers, OSHA and the New York City Buildings Department plan on increasing fines by up to 80 percent, and making the payment of fines mandatory for all offenders. The city has already shown that it will shut down the job sites of repeat offenders, and it plans on shutting down more job sites if necessary.
The Buildings Department has also announced that will hire 100 or more new inspectors in 2016 to help monitor all of the new projects in the New York City area. Inspectors will not only attempt to visit more job sites, but they will also attempt to make regular inspections to make sure that the immigrant workers are being treated fairly.
Immigrant workers struggling to survive are at the mercy of construction companies that are chasing maximum profits. The significant rise in the deaths of immigrant workers, especially Latino workers, has put up enough red flags that city and state officials are vowing to take action immediately.