Immigrant Day Laborers Confront a Perfect Storm of Exploitation in Hurricane Harvey Cleanup

With the Occupational Safety and Health Administration short-staffed in the state — there is one OSHA inspector for every 95,000 workers in Texas — unions and public health officials have stepped in to educate construction workers on how to protect themselves during cleanup and rebuilding after Harvey. At the AFL-CIO building that hosts the WDP’s office in East Houston, I met two United Steelworkers from Queens in New York City as they prepared a training on how to remove mold caused by flood damage.

“After Hurricane Sandy, it took too long to get trainers working with the community, and many people developed breathing problems they called the ‘Sandy cough,’” William Bonilla told me. “Now we are the second team of Steelworkers to arrive in Houston in less than a month.”

Bonilla is also a member of an Occupational Safety and Health Trainers Cooperative, which offers an affordable, 10-hour, OSHA-authorized construction training. The program is required to work in the industry in New York and encouraged by groups, like the WDP, in Texas.

“We focus in part on the immigrant community because they don’t know about their rights in the United States,” Bonilla said. “Most of the time, they are afraid because they’re undocumented and don’t understand some agencies can protect them.” Click here for more.

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