Latinos in the US Can Be a Force in Modernization of Labor Laws

May 25, 2011 | Latin American Herald Tribune |  Link to article

WASHINGTON - The millions of Latino workers can be "an enormous force" for the modernization of labor laws in the United States, where people suffer the consequences of assorted abuses, experts at a forum at the Washington headquarters of the National Council of La Raza said Tuesday.

"Dangerous and unhealthy working conditions are not limited to agriculture or construction, but they are deteriorating in all areas of employment," La Raza analyst Sara Benitez said.

The organization on Tuesday published a brochure with testimonials by Latino workers describing problems such as lack of paid time off, lengthy and irregular work schedules, the lack of retirement plans and discrimination.

Participants at the conference urged that efforts be made in the areas of community education, political activism and the organization of workers in unions to counteract an adverse political situation for workers.

In the United States, almost 44 million workers - including 58 percent of Hispanic workers, lack paid sick days, according to a study by the National Partnership for Women and Families.

"When the economic conditions are bad, like now with us coming out of a recession, companies say they cannot improve working conditions," said NPWF vice president Portia Wu.

"But it's when economic conditions are bad that workers cannot handle basic expenses like taking care of their health," she added.

Over the past three decades, we've seen in the United States a dismantling of the labor laws, a weakening of the unions," said Annette Bernhardt, co-director of the National Employment Law Project, who added that "to this must be added racial discrimination."

Jodie Levin-Epstein, with the Center for Law and Social Policy, said at the conference that "it's hard to believe that in this great nation things like we read in these accounts (in the NCLR brochure) are occurring."

The fatality rate due to workplace accidents "among Latinos (is) from 18 to 25 percent higher than in the ... workforce in general," said Peg Seminario, director for Safety and Health issues at the AFL-CIO.

"One of the reasons for this high rate of injuries and deaths is where Latinos work: many of the men (are) in construction and many of the women (are) in service sectors like hotels and cleaning," she added. EFE

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