Injured Workers Committee
The Injured Workers Committee builds the capacity of workers who have suffered workplace accidents to lead and direct efforts to make the RI Workers' Compensation System more accountable, accessible, and equitable for all.
The Injured Workers Committee was formed by 5 members of Fuerza Laboral who experienced workplace injuries, in one case losing a leg, and the subsequent difficulty of obtaining proper compensation. Our Committee offers clinics where community leaders educate workers in their rights to a safe and healthy workplace, even under threat of retaliation by their employers, and offer advice from their own experience navigating the Workers' Compensation System. The Injured Workers Committee organizes workers to lead efforts to make the RI Workers' Compensation System more accessible to immigrant workers so they can access the benefits they need for their own well-being and that of their families.
Low-income immigrant workers have the highest rates of workplace accidents, working long hours in high-risk industries such as construction and manufacturing, often for employers who forgo safety equipment, proper safety training, and workers' compensation insurance. The most recent figures (September 2014) from the U.S. Department of Labor show that Latino workers have the highest rates of fatality in the workplace of any demographic category. Many Latino workers are reluctant to protest job hazards because of the language barrier, their immigration status, or the fear of losing their job for speaking out to their employers. When accidents do occur, workers are left without medical treatment for months while they try to prove their claim in the RI Workers' Compensation Court.
The Committee has been working with a graduate student of Anthropology at the University of South Florida to develop a Survey of Injured Workers in RI. After reviewing the first round of surveys, we have identified three major problems that are common to injured immigrant workers in RI:
The Committee has already built a relationship with the Chief Judge of the RI Workers Compensation Court, and, for the second year in a row, he is giving a three-session training from October to December at Fuerza Laboral to educate injured workers of their rights to workers’ compensation, medical attention, and how to navigate the legal pathways.
- Retaliation by employers that results in workers being fired upon being injured or upon returning to work after filing a workers’ compensation case,
- The general inaccessibility of the workers’ compensation system, which includes long waits for medical attention and for insurance to be approved, and
- The difficulty of finding lawyers who are respectful of the realities of the working-class Latino community in RI and who treat their cases seriously.
This data will play an important role as we meet with decision-makers to reform the Workers’ Compensation system to better serve the needs of immigrant workers.