Friday, November 27, 2015

Dangerous Attitudes

Via SimplifiedSafety. Not suggesting any attitudes on the bosses' part—I guess that's why they call it "simplified".

Harrowing story in the Times by David W. Chen on the epidemic of fatal construction accidents in the ongoing construction boom in New York City, doubling over the usual average during the past fiscal year:
Seven workers have died on the job since July, including three in a nine-day stretch before Labor Day, according to records of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA.

The city’s Buildings Department keeps its own count of construction deaths, injuries and accidents, offering a broader look at safety year over year. There were 10 construction-related fatalities in the most recent fiscal year, from July 2014 to July 2015, according to city figures. In contrast, the annual average over the previous four years was 5.5.

Meanwhile, 324 workers were injured in the last fiscal year, a jump of 53 percent, and the Buildings Department recorded 314 accidents over all, an increase of 52 percent from the year before. The total was more than two and a half times what the city tallied in 2011. In comparison, permits for new construction projects grew by only 11 percent in the last fiscal year and permits for renovation and other work by 6 percent.
You have to read this story, which does a wonderful, horrifying job of getting to some of the individual humans behind these statistics. But the thing I want to focus on is who, in demographic terms, has been dying, namely the "illegal aliens" we keep hearing about:
The deaths make clear that the city is being built, or in some cases rebuilt, heavily on the backs of recent immigrants, particularly from Latin America, most of them not authorized to work in this country.
Of course it is. Workers who can be given low pay, maybe even tax-free, maybe even below minimum, certainly no overtime, and who can't even think about joining a union, or complaining about pay or about safety conditions either, because complaining will get you deported.

This, as I have explained repeatedly, is what the immigration issue is about, if you'll indulge me for a minute—I'll be getting back to the NYC construction industry presently.

Politicians like Trump or Bush (in this respect they're pretty much the same) will tell you they want to stop illegal immigration to save American jobs, and because they're so terribly-terribly concerned about compliance with the law, but that's not what any of them mean, and it's not what any of them would do in power. They tell that to their voters (who believe, wrongly, that the US is being flooded with immigrants from Mexico, when in fact we now have more Mexican migrants leaving the country than entering it in a given year, and growth in the overall Latino immigrant population has come to a halt), but they have two purposes in mind: one is to terrify the voters into coming out on the "conservative" side, and the other is to prevent comprehensive immigration reform.

Because those people and their friends would really prefer to keep the situation as it is, with a source of uncomplaining, abusable cheap labor. If they can get away with it, which can go on for decades before some situation like the standoff between Ronald Reagan and the Democratic Congress comes along to force a temporary accommodation. You know what the money-conservatives got from that one, right?
Employer opposition to employer sanctions began to subside, partly because of the "affirmative defense" clause in the law that explicitly released employers from any obligation to check the authenticity of workers' documents.
The new law made it illegal to hire undocumented workers, but it made it almost impossible to find an employer guilty of breaking that law—a kind of don't ask, don't tell arrangement, with ignorance as an excuse written right into the bill.

The recent interest in immigration reform on the right, among the think-tank "reformicons", was about a somewhat smarter political program, based on a recognition that there are or soon will be enough Latino voters to swing a national election, so that that traditional Know-Nothing hostility to immigrants is not going to be a viable electoral option any more. So some Republican Senators signed on as members of a "Gang of Eight" in 2013 to propose another amnesty-not-amnesty, in which the big get for employers—there's always a get for employers—was a potentially enormous guest worker program, to bring in as many as 200,000 low-skilled workers a year, on renewable visas but not eligible to apply for permanent residence (except Dylan Matthews thought it left a path to citizenship open for them).

But these guys didn't reckon with how crazy their Republican voters had by now become, and in particular how much they had internalized that Know-Nothing anxiety. It may be that in 2020 nobody will win a national election without Latino votes, but in the meantime no Republican candidate for president could hope to win the nomination without joining the Know-Nothing caucus, and Marco Rubio himself, great Republican hope for winning the Hispanics to the GOP side, had to withdraw his support of his own Gang of Eight bill, which brings us to where we are today, with GOP candidates favoring immigration reform (including the original heir apparent J.E.B. Bush) increasingly seen as having no chance.

What all that has to do with the NYC construction industry, anyway, is brought home with startling precision in some oppo research quoted from the Daily Caller over at Steve's place:
Right now, construction crews are at work completing the new Trump hotel in Washington D.C.’s Old Post Office. In July, a reporter for the Post interviewed 15 of those workers.
[M]any of them had crossed the U.S-Mexico border illegally before they eventually settled in the Washington region to build new lives.

Several of the men, who hail mostly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, have earned U.S. citizenship or legal status through immigration programs targeting Central Americans fleeing civil wars or natural disasters. Others quietly acknowledged that they remain in the country illegally.
A spokesman for the Trump organization noted that construction workers on the site were employed not by Trump himself, but by subcontractors...
You see what I'm saying? There are two sets of interests here, those of the "conservative" candidate and those of the industry magnate who pays for the run. Trump represents, oddly, both sides of the equation; he's a candidate and industrial patron at the same time. But that makes it all the clearer what he wants when he talks about building a wall on the Mexican border or deporting all 11 million undocumented workers. He knows very well it can't be done—in fact he depends on that. By talking about it, promising it, enthusing over it, he encourages the outcome in which there will be no action on immigration at all, and men from Central America will keep falling out of the sky to their deaths because taking care of them is too expensive.

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