BUDA, Texas (KXAN) — For over a decade, Texas has been the deadliest state for Latino workers, according to a press release from the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce (TAMACC).
J.R. Gonzales, TAMACC executive vice-chair, says that the group is planning an awareness campaign and hope to see legislative action when the Texas Legislature returns for their next regular session.
“Texas has experienced more Hispanic deaths on the worksite than any other place in the country. And that number continues to rise,” Gonzales said.
The data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the 2020 fatality rate for Hispanic/Latino workers is 4.5 per 100,000 workers, up from 4.2 in 2019. The rate for all other groups decreased during 2020, which Gonzales ties to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During the pandemic, Latinos were out there in numbers as essential workers, they were out there doing the jobs, getting things done,” Gonzales said. “One of the things that we’re looking at is trying to find out what those root causes are and try to mitigate them.”
In 2020, 1,072 Latino workers died, 22.5% of that year’s total workplace deaths.
Gonzales points to Texas’ large number of Latino workers, combined with language barriers, improper training and overworked workers as causes of the high rates.
“Some folks are working two and three jobs to make ends meet,” Gonzales said. “If it’s an unsafe workplace, where if they’re not properly trained, they need to speak up and ask for training. If they are unsure about a job or the safety of a worksite, speak up. “
However, immigration status and employment precarity can prevent workers from speaking up about their working conditions. When stability can be violently ripped away by an employer or state authorities, it can be hard to take a stand.
“People need to know that if you report an unsafe work environment or something an employer isn’t doing properly, it doesn’t matter what your status is. OSHA will look into it,” Gonzales said. “We have a lot of folks in Latino community who just do not want to say anything.”
For employers, he recommends that they go beyond what Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines require. Making sure foremen and shift supervisors can speak Spanish and actually communicate with their employees, for example.
TAMACC also plans to start an educational campaign focused on how employers and employees can prevent workplace deaths. Texas Mutual Insurance is working in partnership with TAMACC on the effort. Gonzales wants more groups to join the campaign, and TAMACC wants to hold a Hispanic Policy Summit at the Texas Capitol in September.
Gonzales is frustrated by the lack of action on the issue. He recently found a 15-year-old video where he spoke in D.C., and that “it was still the same god darn subject.”
“We’re still talking about the same thing over and over and over. And the only thing that’s changed is the numbers have went up. But the situation is still remains the same,” Gonzales said. “There’s no reason to have all these deaths and an increasing death rate, year after year, amongst Latino workers.”