Church hosts summit for Latino and immigrant workers

Latino workers are killed and suffer work-related injuries at a higher rate than all other workers in America, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Consider:

— Nearly 17 percent of all New Jersey residents are of Hispanic origin.

— Latinos account for almost a one in four New Jersey worker fatalities in 2009.

And consider the future: At nearly 23 million, people of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity represented 15 percent of the United States’ labor force in 2010. By 2018, Hispanics are expected to comprise 18 percent of the labor force.

With the lives of so many at stake, the Diocese of Camden has become involved in efforts to educate Latino and immigrant workers about their rights, and what to do when those rights are violated.

The diocese played a role in organizing and presenting the Southern New Jersey Action Summit for Latino and Immigrant Workers on Sunday, June 5. It was held at St. Teresa of Avila Church in Bridgeton.

The event brought together workers and representatives of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and its Wage and Hour Division, Comite de Apoyo A Los Trabajadores Agricolas (C.A.T.A.), the Mexican Consulate in Philadelphia, Workers Legal Rights Project and Farmworker Legal Services of New Jersey, Center for Human Services, and Pathstone.

Church leaders often can more easily gain the trust of those that OSHA and other government agencies are most trying to reach — the most vulnerable workers in high risk industries, many of whom are not fluent in English. OSHA has been working with faith-based groups to assist Latino and immigrant workers. It will accept complaints filed by faith-based groups on behalf of workers who do not feel comfortable filing the complaint themselves.

Some 80 workers attended.

“We had hoped for more participation but we believe that fear of the government played a role,” said Corlis L. Sellers, coordinator of the Camden Diocese’s Racial Justice Commission, who coordinated the diocesan participation in the summit.

“The workers were moved by the concern of all involved over their health, safety and welfare. They found the information provided in the summit very helpful, and they look forward to more information sessions in the future,” she said.

The summit focused largely on migrant and farm worker issues — given the large number of farms in the area — but information also was provided on the construction, landscaping and restaurant industries.

Attendees listened to panel discussions on general job safety and health, and on how to file a complaint with OSHA, and were given literature from the government agencies present. Fittingly, considering the region’s current heat wave, OSHA used the occasion to promote its nationwide campaign to prevent heat illness in outdoor workers.

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