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Defending Immigrant Workers: Fighting Back Against Employer Retaliation

National COSH and the COSH Network of local advocacy organizations are spearheading local, state and national workplace and public policy campaigns on a crucial, emerging issue: Ensuring that all workers – including immigrants – can speak up about safety and health hazards without fear of employer retaliation.

Workers must be able to identify and speak about safety concerns so they can access appropriate medical treatment for illnesses and injuries. Workers also need freedom to speak out about safety so they can partner with employers and regulators to reduce and eliminate workplace hazards.

A growing number of employers however - emboldened by the recent attacks against immigrants- are putting workers in harm’s way, evading workers’ compensation obligations and threatening to deport whistleblowers and destroy their families. One recent example:

In May of 2017, 37 year-old Jose Flores went to meet with his employer after sustaining a serious leg injury on the job. He thought the employer wanted to provide assistance to him and his family. But upon leaving the meeting, Flores was apprehended by ICE – just one block away from his place of employment- and immediately taken from his wife and five children. The employer chose to evade workers’ compensation law, deny responsibility for Flores’ health care, and destroy his family.

When other immigrant workers hear about Jose Flores, their fear and anxiety grow. They know that if they report dangers or seek medical care for injury, there’s the potential to trigger a call to ICE, deportation or further harm to their families. So they don’t speak up. They live with injury and pain. And they don’t receive the workers’ compensation benefits and other protections that our public policies are meant to provide.

We’re working to make sure that immigrant workers and their families hear a different story – a story that shows they are valued, that they have support in their communities and that their rights will be respected.

When Jose was threatened with deportation, the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), a member group of the COSH Network, took effective action. Partnering with worker centers and community groups, MassCOSH played a key role in convening community allies, lending support to the family, and co-sponsoring a public action that drew widespread media attention.

 

As a result, federal officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) became engaged. Jose won a tentative release while an investigation is in progress. MassCOSH is collaborating with workers, work centers and community allies on local and state administrative and policy efforts to prevent other workers from suffering a similar fate.

Immigrant workers, unfortunately, are suffering abuses and a denial of their rights in many communities. That’s why National COSH is leading a national network of COSH groups, worker centers and other allies to provide emergency action to respond to urgent worker situations. We’re also advocating public policies that strengthen worker protections. Action steps include:

  • Helping workers access critical medical and legal resources
  • Taking legal and public action against employers who prey on workers’ fear by threatening to call ICE or other forms of retaliation
  • Pressing for local, state and national policies and procedures that protect workers who speak up for their lives and limbs
  • Gathering and disseminating a clearinghouse of tools and resources to support local and state efforts.

For more information about how you can get involved, please email Jessica Martinez at: jessica@nationalcosh.org

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