The topics for my blog posts sometimes come from unusual places. This post is one of these. It popped in my head as I watched Natalie Portman announce the nominees for best actor during Sunday night’s Academy Award broadcast. The snippet featuring DemiÃ¡n Bichir in “A Better Life” reminded me of a worker-fatality report that I bookmarked a few weeks ago, but never got around to reading. Like Bichir’s character Carlos Galindo, I recall the report’s abstract mentioned a day laborer who might have worked as a gardener.
I opened the bookmark yesterday to the report released in January 2012 by the California Department of Public Health’s Occupational Health branch. It describes a January 2011 incident at a private residence in southern California where a day laborer was repairing an outdoor masonry and stucco wall. The worker fell about 7 feet from a scaffold to his death.
The agency’s report describes problems with how the scaffolding was erected (e.g., walk boards not secured, guardrails not attached) which led directly to the worker’s death. The investigators also examined the circumstances by which the worker was hired for the job, a factor not typically addressed head-on in these Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) reports. My memory about the day laborer being hired as a gardener was off the mark. The California FACE program investigators write:
“The home owner had asked his gardener if he knew anyone who could reface the exterior of his home with a stone and stucco facade. The gardener hired the victim from a street corner to perform the work. …Day laborers are workers who meet at well-known locations, usually public street corners or commercial parking lots, and wait for building contractors, landscapers, home owners, and other potential employers to offer work.
Day laborers include undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America who are unable to gain formal employment because of their legal status. Day laborers are often willing to work regardless of potential hazards that may be present on the job site and may not be aware of or able to notify their employers if they are concerned about their working conditions. Most day laborers have received little, if any, safety training in the work they are hired to perform.”
Everyday in the U.S., an estimated 117,600 individuals are working as day laborers or seeking a day labor job. More than 90% are hired directly by homeowners or renters, and construction contractors.
The California FACE investigators note:
“Employers, including homeowners, who hire day laborers to perform hazardous work must provide a safe and healthy work environment and ensure that they are capable of understanding and performing all of the safety aspects related to their work. Organizations that offer workplace safety training to day laborers include the
Construction Safety Council (CSC), La Raza Centro Legal Program in San Francisco,
the City of Los Angeles Day Laborer Centers, Instituto de EducaciÃ³n Popular del Sur de
California (IDEPSCA), and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON).
Day laborers who have undergone such training are more likely to be familiar with and
implement safe work practices. Likewise, homeowners who use licensed contractors
for the specific type of work to be performed are more likely to be assured that
employees are trained in and familiar with safe work practices.”
Last week, the film “A Better Life” was screened at a national gathering of 300 day laborers who met in Los Angeles for NDLON’s annual convening. KPCC radio’s Leslie Berestein Rojas interviewed one participant who offered his thoughts about workplace hazards:
“…In the case of (Carlos) in the film last night, when he was climbing up the palm tree, it was hard to climb up there, but we do all of that. For us it’s difficult, because we risk our lives, I can tell you that. Like with me, when I work on roofs, we have to be very concentrated on what we are doing, because one slip and we go down, and that is the end of us. We risk everything, because we don’t have health insurance and we don’t have any kind of protection. Here we work in God’s hands.”