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Labor, civic organizations join call to bring home worker who was deported after witnessing preventable deaths in New Orleans

Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Press Contacts: 

Roger Kerson, roger@nationalcosh.org, 734.645.0535

Urgent appeal to Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia:
Labor, civic organizations join call to bring home worker who was
deported after witnessing preventable deaths in New Orleans

 

SAN DIEGO:  Labor, community and civic organizations representing millions of constituents, along with more than 520 individuals, have signed an urgent appeal to U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, calling on him to act immediately to bring New Orleans construction worker Delmer Joel Ramirez Palma back to the United States.

Ramirez Palma, a construction worker in the U.S. for 18 years, was working at the Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans in October when the structure collapsed, killing three workers and injuring dozens more. He suffered serious injuries and was recovering – only to be detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and deported to his native Honduras on November 29th.

“There is no reason to rip an injured worker who is an important witness to a workplace disaster away from his family,” said Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH.) “This aggressive and unnecessary action by ICE undermines U.S. whistleblower protections, and only serves to intimidate workers from speaking out against the very employers who put their lives at risk.”

"Undocumented workers do some of the country’s most dangerous jobs,” said Dr. David Michaels, who was assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health from 2009 through 2017 and is now a professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health. “Now ICE is sending a message to these workers: risk your life and those of your co-workers, or risk deportation. If any worker is too afraid to raise safety concerns, it threatens the safety of all workers."

The petition calling on Secretary Scalia to “Bring Joel Home” is supported by hundreds of individuals and organizations, including the AFL-CIO, Interfaith Worker Justice, National COSH, the National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON), National Employment Law Project, the National Women’s Law Center, the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ), Oxfam America, Working Families United and many others.

Ramirez Palma, who had raised safety concerns with his supervisor prior to the tragic and preventable building collapse, was interviewed three times by OSHA while in detention. The Louisiana Workforce Commission has stated he is a “crucial witness” for the investigation into safety violations which claimed three lives and injured many workers.

Being separated from Joel has been so hard on me and the kids,” said Ramirez Palma’s wife, Tania Bueso. “But I can’t stop thinking about the workers who didn’t make it out alive and their families who are waiting for answers. If worker well-being matters at all to Secretary Scalia, he will bring Joel back so he can participate in the investigation.”

“By not preventing Joel’s deportation, Secretary Scalia has sent a strong signal to workers everywhere that the Department of Labor is unwilling to stand up for them,” said NOWCRJ Executive Director Ursula Price. “This sends a chilling effect that puts all workers at risk and increases the likelihood of another tragedy like what happened at the Hard Rock. Secretary Scalia needs to take immediate action to bring Joel back if he expects workers to trust the Department of Labor again.”

NOWCRJ is a multiracial member-based organization fighting for workers' rights and racial justice in the Gulf South. NOWCRJ has been supporting the Ramirez Palma family and advocating for justice for workers impacted by poor safety conditions at the Hard Rock Hotel construction site.

The national petition drive in support of Ramirez Palma has gained wide support in a short time because the government’s failure to protect workplace whistleblowers is a direct threat to the health and well-being of all workers, regardless of immigration status.

The appeal to U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia is here.
A list of individual and organizational signatories is here

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National COSH links the efforts of local worker health and safety coalitions in communities across the United States, advocating for elimination of preventable hazards in the workplace. For more information, please visit nationalcosh.org. Follow us at National Council for Occupational Safety and Health on Facebook and @NationalCOSH on Twitter.