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Baltimore bridge collapse calls attention to the growing Latino labor force and the risks they face

About a third of the nation’s construction workers are Hispanic, with more of them exposed to life-threatening dangers such as falls and injuries from heavy machinery.
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Most of the workers killed or presumed dead following the Baltimore bridge collapse are originally from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico — illustrating the dangers Hispanic workers face as they continue to be overrepresented in the construction industry.

Eight construction workers were fixing potholes on the Francis Scott Key Bridge's roadway early Tuesday when an immense cargo ship experiencing technical issues after it lost power accidentally crashed into the bridge, causing it to collapse into the Patapsco River. Two workers who survived were rescued from the water, and search efforts for the remaining six were underway all day Wednesday.

“The hope we have is to be able to see the body," Fredy Suazo, the brother of Maynor Suazo, one of the missing construction workers presumed dead, told NBC News. "We want to see him, find him, know whether he is dead because we don’t know anything."

"My brother is the engine of the family. He was everything to us; he was the best," Suazo's sister Norma tearfully told Noticias Telemundo about her missing brother.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration at the U.S. Department of Labor considers construction as "a high hazard industry" in which workers are exposed to serious risks such as falling from rooftops, being struck by heavy construction equipment and being hurt or killed by unguarded machinery.

Latinos are more exposed to these dangers since they make up about a third of the nation's construction workers.

Guatemala's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday two of its nationals were among those presumed dead.

One of the missing Guatemalan workers was identified by his family as José López. His brother-in-law, Walter Guerra, said López’s young child hasn’t stopped asking about her father since Tuesday.

“To the girl, we only say he’s working, we’ve told her he’s working and that he’ll be back soon,” Guerra told Noticias Telemundo.

The body of the second Guatemalan worker was recovered from the water Wednesday evening. Authorities identified him as Dorlian Castillo Cabrera. That evening rescuers also recovered the body of Mexican worker identified as Alejandro Fernandez Fuentes.

According to Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, another one of their nationals remains missing and one Mexican national who survived “is recovering satisfactorily from his injuries.”

Maynor Suazo, of Honduras, and Miguel Luna, of El Salvador, have been identified as missing by friends and family.

Jesús Campos, a construction worker at Brawner Builders, said he had worked alongside Suazo and Luna and described them to Telemundo 44 as "fathers and people who come to work to earn a living."

Suazo lived in the U.S. for nearly two decades and started working for the company several months ago, according to his brother Fredy.

He described Suazo, a father of two, as a smiley and pleasant man who "always fought for the well-being of the family.”

“You come to this country to accomplish your dreams and sometimes that dream doesn’t get fulfilled," Fredy said. "And for a tragedy like this to happen to us, can you imagine?” 

With 1,056 fatalities, workers in the construction and extraction industries had the second most fatalities in 2022, followed by transportation and material moving workers, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released in December.

At least 423 of these workers died due to falls, slips or trips, according to BLS.

The majority of these deaths, at least 286, happened among Hispanic workers.

The fatality rate of construction and extraction workers increased from 12.3 deaths per 100,000 full-time employee workers in 2021 to 13.0 a year later.

A total of 316 of foreign-born Hispanic construction workers died of workplace injuries in 2022, according to BLS.

A black and white side by side of Miguel Luna and Maynor Suazo.
Miguel Luna and Maynor Suazo are among the missing construction workers following the Baltimore bridge collapse.Family photos

Other tragedies involving Hispanic construction workers have already taken place this year.

In another Maryland town about 10 miles west of Baltimore, at least three Latinos were among the six construction workers fatally struck by two drivers while in a construction zone doing roadwork in Woodlawn over the weekend.

Two months ago in Idaho, three construction workers, two of which were from Guatemala, were killed in a building collapse in the town of Boise.

'Part of the very fabric' of Baltimore

The Baltimore bridge collapse tragedy has hit Latino and immigrant communities nationwide hard, said Bruna Sollod, senior political director of United We Dream, the nation’s largest immigrant youth-led organization.

Sollod said in a statement Wednesday that immigrant workers like the six men who remain missing in Baltimore “have been building and repairing the bridges that ensure we can move freely throughout the cities we call home and stay connected as neighbors and families.”

“Each and every single one of these men were a part of the very fabric that helps make Baltimore a thriving, vibrant, and safer community,” Sollod said, adding that they are “a reminder of the often unseen care immigrants pour into our cities and communities every day.”

In addition to being a construction worker, Luna was a member of CASA, one of the most prominent immigrant advocacy groups in the state of Maryland.

"He is a husband, a father of three, and has called Maryland his home for over 19 years," Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA, said in a statement. "Miguel Luna, from El Salvador, left at 6:30 p.m. Monday evening for work and since, has not come home."

The organization is working with the affected families to provide them support, Torres added.

Moisés Díaz, another Brawner Builders construction worker who was friends with Suazo and Luna, said he used to work on the same shift in which his friends presumably died but switched shifts to make space in his schedule to attend church.

"They were great husbands, fathers, sons," Díaz told NBC News. "We are very worried."

Traffic into the Francis Scott Key Bridge was closed off after authorities received a distress call from the cargo ship after it had lost power — effectively preventing a larger or more deadly disaster.

The crash happened less than five minutes later.

Campos said he believes little could have been done to safely evacuate his co-workers.

"Everything happened in the blink of an eye and that wasn't possible," Campos told Telemundo 44 in Spanish.

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