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Latino workers are at increased risk of dying on the job, new report says

The rise in fatalities is especially seen among immigrant workers in three states — the same states that are also seeing a disproportionate share of Covid-19 cases and deaths among Latinos.
Image: Jamie Stachowski's factory
An employee cuts sausage at Jamie Stachowski's factory in Capitol Heights, Md., on May 6, 2020.Nicholas Kamm / AFP via Getty Images

Latino workers, especially whose who are immigrants, continue to be at increased risk of dying on the job, according to a report published Tuesday by the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest federation of unions.

Based on 2018 numbers, the most recent available data, "our report did show that the job fatality rate for Latino workers continues to be higher than the national rate. It's at 3.7 per 100,000 workers, compared to 3.5 for all workers," Rebecca Reindel, director of occupational safety and health at AFL-CIO, said during a virtual press conference Tuesday.

Most of the Latino workers who died on the job worked in construction — followed by motor vehicle operators, maintenance workers and agricultural workers. Deaths among all Latino workers reached 961 in 2018, compared to 903 in 2017.

According to Reindel, the increase in deaths among Latino workers is driven by a rise in fatalities among Latino immigrant workers. In 2018, at least 641 Latino immigrant workers died on the job, compared to 568 the previous year. The majority were born in Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala.

About 76 percent of all Latino worker deaths in Florida were of immigrant workers. In California and Texas, it was 61 and 63 percent respectively.

Latinos in these three states — many of them essential workers — are being disproportionately infected and killed by the coronavirus.

"Workers who were already at greater risk of workplace injuries, deaths and disease have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, such as Black and Latino workers in meatpacking plants, agriculture and other industries," Reindel said.

Latino workers at meat and chicken processing plants have been the hardest hit by the coronavirus, accounting for 56 percent of cases reported in plants in 21 states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in July.

In California, immigrant workers like José Roberto Álvarez Mena, who worked as the head of maintenance for Mission Foods Corp. in Commerce are among those who have died of the coronavirus. Álvarez Mena tested positive for Covid-19 on June 28. The following day, the Los Angeles Public Health Department ordered the temporary closure of the food manufacturer after failing to report a COVID-19 outbreak that sickened at least 40 of its workers; it was allowed to reopen a day later. Public health officials also closed two other food processors. Álvarez Mena, who was born in El Salvador, died of Covid-19 on July 20.

Since April, the United Farm Workers, the nation's largest farmworkers' labor union, has been urging their employers to take "proactive steps and implement best practices" to provide some basic information about the coronavirus and "extend certain rights and benefits so that workers can feel comfortable and safe in preventing the spread of the virus" — especially understanding that many agricultural workers have died on the job even before the pandemic.

As more Latino workers continue to be disproportionately exposed to the risks of Covid-19 while on the job, the AFL-CIO is urging the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) "to increase attention to the serious safety and health problems faced by Latino, immigrant and aging workers" and enhance "efforts to protect temporary and contract workers." The organizations is also calling for a "national OSHA standard" to battle Covid-19 in the workplace.

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