Fatal Construction Accident Shows Higher Risks Faced by Latino Workers

Raleigh- Monday morning, March 23, 2015, in Raleigh, North Carolina, was a mild and slightly overcast day. The first signs of spring were beginning to emerge after an uncharacteristically chilly winter for the capital of the Southern state. But the recent cold weather had hardly hampered the construction of several high-rise office and condo projects, unprecedented for the generally low-rise city.

The 12-story Charter Square was one such project, and on March 23, just before 11 am, workers were busy on its south wall, with two mast climbers attached to its all-glass surface. Mast climbers are a scaffolding device employing a thin, central steel column stuck to the side of a structure, along which a horizontal platform that ferries workers up and down, so that they can install the glass panels future occupants will gaze from when the building is finished. On this day, the mast climbers were to be dismantled, with the building scheduled for opening in May.

About halfway up, the mast suddenly peeled off the side of the building, sending José Erasmo Hernández, José Luis López Ramírez and Anderson Antones de Almeida to their deaths, and Elmer Guevara to the hospital in serious condition. The four men were working for a tangled web of contractors and subcontractors, and the Department of Labor's representative on the scene said that contractors themselves inspect mast climbers, which are not specifically regulated by the state.

Memorial in honor of the victims reads,'While we run from a corrupt government we put our lives on the line in the chase of the American Dream. RIP fellow Dreamers.'According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Latinos are overrepresented in the construction industry, holding 24 percent of all construction jobs. But visits to construction sites in North Carolina reveal that Latinos are far more present at the front lines: scaling walls, down in holes and operating dangerous equipment. A closer look at the statistics shows that Latinos make up only 14 percent of first-line supervisors and 9 percent of managerial positions. Furthermore, BLS statistics show that from 2010 to 2013, fatalities for Latino construction workers rose 20 percent, while during the same period, deaths for non-Latinos fell.

Read the entire article by Danica Jorden at TruthOut.

Photos by: Danica Jorden.