As Republicans in the Senate moved toward a vote on President Donald Trump's labor secretary nominee, the AFL-CIO issued warnings that progress in worker safety and health is at risk under the new administration and its regulation rollbacks.
The union released its annual job deaths report Wednesday, showing Latino and immigrant workers' deaths increased in 2015.
That occurred despite progress by the Obama administration in worker safety and health protections backed by the union. The Latino increase contrasted with the relatively unchanged rate of worker deaths among all other groups.
Meanwhile, the Senate appeared headed for a vote Thursday on Trump's Labor secretary nominee Alex Acosta, the sole Hispanic in his Cabinet.
The fatality rate for Latino workers in 2015 increased to 903 from 804 a year earlier, an increase of about 100 deaths.
About two-thirds (67 percent) of all Latino workers who died were immigrants, the AFL-CIO reported and immigrant deaths accounted for three quarters of the increase in Hispanic deaths.
"This is a group of workers that has always been at high risk. That risk got worse in 2015 and I think in this political environment there is a reason for concern," said Peg Seminario, AFL-CIO director of safety and health.
"For those workers there had always been great fear about raising safety and health concerns and any concerns in the workplace, and I think this situation is going to get worse," she said. "That will mean more immigrant workers who are facing risks on the job and higher rates of injury."
The data is based on Bureau of Labor Statistics and Occupational Safety and Health Administration information.
Responding to NBC Latino's questions about the deaths and regulations affecting workers, White House spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferré said the questions were regarding Department of Labor policies and "as soon as nominee Acosta is confirmed he can attend to these important issues to improve the safety of American workers."
AFL-CIO's Seminario said that thus far, Acosta has not provided reassurances on policies affecting workers' health. In his confirmation hearing, she said Acosta declined to say whether he's committed to implementing new regulations that were many years in the works protecting workers' exposure to silica.
Acccording to OSHA, some 2.3 million workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica in the workplace. The majority are construction workers exposed when crushing stone and concrete. The remaining encounter it in brick manufacturing, foundries and the oil drilling method known as fracking.
OSHA estimates its rule would protect over 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis each year. But the rule's implementation has been delayed by the Trump administration.
"Latino workers comprise 27 percent of the construction workforce, and typically are at higher risk of injuries and exposure to hazards. So the new OSHA silica standard is important," Seminario said.
"Unfortunately the Trump administration recently delayed enforcement of the OSHA construction silica standard for 90 days until September 23, 2017, pushing it back from June 23, which will allow workers to be exposed to high levels of silica," she said. There is an ongoing lawsuit over the regulation delay.
By OSHA's own estimates, these continued high exposures will result in 160 worker deaths. Any further delay or weakening of the rule will leave workers at risk, said Seminario.
The AFL-CIO said it also is keeping watch on a rule that is scheduled for implementation in July that would require job injury reporting. That also is one that would heavily affect Latino workers since they have the higher number of job-related deaths. Also of concern is a regulation of beryllium. That regulation also has been delayed.
Trump issued an executive order soon after he took office that is known as the "one-in, two-out" plan. It requires agencies requesting new regulations to cut two existing regulations. A second executive order he signed requires federal agencies to create task forces that will review federal rules and recommend whether to repeal them or leave them in place.
"With the election of President Trump and with Republicans in the majority in Congress there is a strong push for deregulation and rollbacks of protections and the future of safety and health for working people in this country is uncertain and indeed may be in danger," Seminario said.
Other data on Latino workers in the AFL-CIO report:
- In 2015, the fatality rate for Latino workers increased to 4.0 per 100,000 workers, up from 3.7 in 2014. The job fatality rate for Latino workers was 18% greater than the job fatality rate for all workers, which was 3.4 percent.
- Sixty-eight percent of all Latino immigrant workers fatally injured on the job in 2015 were from Mexico.
- The increase in deaths among Latinos workers in 2015 was overwhelmingly due to deaths of immigrant Latino workers. The increase included 411 deaths of workers from Mexico and 42 from El Salvador.
- Texas led states in the greatest number of Latino worker fatalities with 220, followed by California with 178 and Florida 78.