Immigrant Construction Workers Routinely Injured

Danny Postel |

IWJ's Executive Director Kim Bobo has a pointed Letter to the Editor in today's Chicago Tribune in response to a harrowing article about an undocumented immigrant worker who became quadriplegic as a result of a work accident and was moved to Mexico against his will. Kim's letter appears at the end of the batch in today's Voice of the People section -- scroll down to the bottom of the page, or read it here:

Workers' insurance

The appalling story of Advocate Christ Medical Center whisking away an undocumented quadriplegic man without his consent and dumping him in a woefully inadequate facility raises questions about charity care and immigrants ("Seriously injured, abruptly deported; Area hospital's decision to send undocumented quadriplegic man back to Mexico angers many," Page 1, Feb. 7).

Advocate clearly shirked its responsibilities. But Advocate is not alone. The employer and government health-and-safety-enforcement agencies share blame.

Quelino Ojeda Jimenez fell from a roof on which he was working. The young man was hired by a contractor who was hired by Imperial Roofing Group, whose owner, Anthony Ritter, said he wasn't sure if the subcontractor carried active workers' compensation.

Well Ritter should know. Employers who hire contractors and subcontractors should know if workers, who risk injury on their jobs, are covered by workers' compensation.

This worker's injuries should clearly have been covered by workers' compensation insurance, a no-fault system of benefits paid by employers to workers who experience job-related injuries. In Illinois, almost all employers, even those with only one part-time employee, are required to provide workers' compensation insurance.

Roofing is notoriously dangerous for workers. Falls are one of the leading causes of traumatic occupational death, accounting for 8 percent of all occupational fatalities from trauma. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires that construction workers have fall protection when they are working more than 6 feet off the ground. Jimenez fell backward more than 20 feet to the ground.

This worker's injuries should have been paid for by his employer's workers' compensation insurance, not his personal health insurance. Jimenez was not only failed by Advocate. His employer failed to ensure workers' compensation coverage; his employer and OSHA failed to ensure his safety on the roof.

Workers shouldn't risk their lives to put a roof over our heads. And when accidents occur, workers' compensation insurance should cover them.

- Kim Bobo, executive director, Interfaith Worker Justice, Chicago