Getting a disease because of occupational hazards or even killed on the job happens more often than you may think. A Workers Memorial Day gathering was held on Friday to remember Upstate workers who died because of either scenario was held in Liverpool. Advocates are working to provide support to affected workers and immigrants. Worker Justice Center of N.Y. Senior Advocate Carly Fox from Rochester advocates for health, safety, and compensation issues for migrant farm workers. She says farmers have made some improvements but immigrants need their help to negotiate.
“Concerted action is something that you need to be able to do to ask for a 5 cent or be able to advocate for your own protective equipment without fear of being retaliated against and having to lose a job. So, we really want to change the conditions in this state that prevent us from being able to protect those workers when they organize together.”
However, she feels that advocating for workers does make a difference. Fox is pushing for immigrants the ability to apply for State Driver’s licenses because she says it poses many health and safety issues for them and their families. Fighting for policy reforms to protect immigrant workers is also rewarding for Carlos Gutierrez. As a member of the Worker’s Center in Ithaca, he offers assistance to many restaurant workers.
“Who are in the background there cooking (and) cleaning, all that work (at) the dairy farms.”
Guitierrez was honored for his work. His colleague and Coordinator Pete Meyers says Gutierrez uncovered workers from Central and South America being exploited at a pizzeria in Ithaca.
“And these workers were sleeping in the basement of the pizzeria. They were being paid 2 dollars under the minimum wage, working 80 hours a week not being paid for those hours.”
The steady decline of doctors accepting workers comp insurance means that injured workers in Syracuse are often referred to the Occupational Health Clinical Center. Medical Director Michael Lax says every year 95-thousand people get sick on the job... 20 times more than those who suffer from acute injuries.
“When you talk about occupational disease, you’re talking about cancers that result from exposures. Lung disease, heart disease, neurological disease; they’re kind of under the radar. So, it’s a big part of what we do is to sort of see people who have suspected occupational disease and try and recognize them and bring it to more to an awareness and work change working conditions to reduce exposures and prevent that from happening.”
Other speakers at the event focused on air quality issues such as asbestos contamination and respiratory issues. National Workers Memorial Day is April 28th.