After Harvey, Immigrant and Labor Rights Groups Team Up to Provide Ongoing Health and Safety Training for Reconstruction Workers
Fe y Justicia Worker Center, National COSH, Chemical Workers Union and National Day Laborer Organizing Network deliver “Train-the-Trainers” sessions and prepare Reconstruction Works campaign to support recovery workers facing severe toxic health and safety hazards in the workplace
HOUSTON, TX: With recovery efforts underway from the devastating effect of Hurricane Harvey – and new storm damage now confronting Puerto Rico, Florida and the Caribbean – health and safety trainers as well as workers and immigrant rights advocates from local and national safety groups will be in Houston this week to train workers and community members on safe clean up procedures and their rights to a safe workplace.
Ongoing efforts are currently underway to expand and build upon past “Reconstruction Works” campaigns that have played a critical role in supporting reconstruction workers after Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Rita and other disasters.
During previous cleanup efforts recovery workers exposed to flood waters suffered skin infections, lesions, asthma attacks, allergic reactions and other conditions. Workers are also exposed to the risk of lead poisoning and asbestos exposure when working in damaged or collapsed buildings.
This week, experienced health and safety trainers from National COSH and other COSH affiliates from around the country will join local advocates from the Houston-based COSH affiliate Fe y Justicia (Faith and Justice) Worker Center to provide “Train-the-Trainer” classes for workers and advocates, who will in turn provide awareness training in workplaces and communities throughout Houston.
“The response from COSH groups and our allies to the emergency on the Gulf Coast has been amazing,” said National COSH co-executive director Jessica Martinez, who is joining the “Train-the-Trainer” session in Houston. “Groups are sending people, sharing information and resources and helping to raise funds so that recovery workers can stay safe while rebuilding their communities.”
“Most Houston neighborhoods were somehow impacted, so workers and neighbors are cleaning up a wide range of water and wind damage that can get people seriously hurt,” said Marianela Acuña Arreaza, executive director of Faith and Justice Worker Center (Centro de Trabajadores Fe y Justicia), the premier worker center in the Houston area coordinating local efforts.
“Day laborers, construction workers, utility workers, domestic workers, as well as neighbors and volunteers, are already going into flooded and damaged buildings, where they will encounter mold, sewage, and air and water that may have been contaminated with toxic pollutants,” said Acuña Arreaza. “Our goal is to equip them with the tools and information they need to reduce the risk of getting sick, injured or killed while taking on these difficult assignments.”
“Gulf Coast communities face a massive, urgent rebuilding job, as will Florida, Puerto Rico and Caribbean islands,” said Frank Cyphers, President of the Akron, Ohio-based International Chemical Workers Union Council (ICWUC). The ICWUC, a council of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, is assisting the worker and community training effort in Houston, with support from federal grants from the National Institute of Environmental and Health Sciences (NIEHS).
“This is no time to cut corners on worker safety,” said Cyphers. “We need to build on lessons learned during recovery from 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy and other disasters: Workers must know their rights – and know how to assess and prevent potential hazards.”
BACKGROUND: The three-day, bilingual “Train-the-Trainer” sessions, in English and Spanish, begins today, September 13th at the Dominican Sisters of Houston campus. The curriculum will develop trainers to teach safety awareness, workplace safety rights, and information about mold, sewage, airborne and waterborne contaminants, and other hazards associated with disaster recovery.
In addition to upcoming training sessions, National COSH has partnered with NYCOSH to provide a series of fact sheets on safe clean up procedures. The fact sheets describe known hazards experienced during previous recovery efforts, including asphyxiation, building collapse, electrocution, explosion, mold, sewage, toxic contaminants and other conditions.
As recovery efforts continue in the coming weeks and months, Fe y Justicia Worker Center will operate a hotline for affected workers and provide ongoing safety awareness training at worksites and community centers. A donation page at youcaring.com gives concerned citizens a way to support safe and sustainable recovery efforts.
Fe y Justicia (Faith and Justice) Worker Center, based in Houston, campaigns for justice and dignity for day laborers, domestic workers and other vulnerable workers.
National COSH links the efforts of local worker health and safety coalitions in communities across the United States, advocating for elimination of preventable hazards in the workplace. For more information, please visit coshnetwork.org.
The International Chemical Workers Union Council (ICWUC), based in Akron, Ohio, represents workers in the chemical industry and other occupations in the U.S. The ICWUC has six worker health and safety federal grants and collaborates with 10 other union partners, including National COSH, to conduct a range of worker safety and health programs and develop rank and file worker trainers.
The National Day Laborer Organizing Network works to improve the lives of day laborers in the United States. NDLON works to unify and strengthen its member organizations to be more strategic and effective in their efforts to develop leadership, mobilize and organize day laborers.