My experience as a worker in construction

My experience as a worker in construction
In the city of New York, 92.9% of the workers who died on private sites were not unionized.
Foto: Mariela Lombard / El Diario

My name is Silvia, I am from Guatemala, and I am a construction worker in New York. I have worked in this industry for over 10 years, initially on non-union sites and now as a proud union member. When I read Clark Pena’s article, Latino Construction Workers Deserve Better Future, I felt worried about the way he spoke about labor unions in the construction industry.

In my experience, labor unions do indeed offer opportunities for Latinos. In the past, I was a victim of wage theft while working in companies that were not unionized. But with the support of community groups that help immigrant workers, I was able to recover my stolen wages. From there, they taught and showed it was possible to enter a Union. Thanks to their work, I was able to become a member of Local 1010, part of LiUNA (Laborers International Union of North America). That experience helped me personally and encouraged me to share my experience with the Latino community and to tell others that there are opportunities to be part of a Union. All you need is information, perseverance, and organization!

As a member of Local 1010, I have not forgotten my brothers and sisters who are non-union construction workers. I want to support all Latino workers, especially day laborers, women in construction, and those who haven’t been able to access union membership. For this reason, I am an active member of  New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), in Queens. NICE members include men and women working in construction, recently arrived immigrants, and domestic workers.

NICE members at the 2019 Women’s March. Silvia has the blue hardhat on and holding the banner. 

Articles like Peña’s, and others that do not support unions, create a false sense of fear among workers using opinions and false information. These articles say that Latino workers have more opportunities in workplaces that are not unionized, but but they fail to mention that Latinos are also the most likely to be killed and to have their wages stolen. The New York State Committee on Health and Safety (NYCOSH)’s most recent report, Deadly Skylines, states that non-unionized workplaces are especially dangerous for workers. In the state of New York in 2017, 86.7% of the workers who died in private construction projects were not unionized. In the city of New York, 92.9% of the workers who died on private sites were not unionized.

I feel very fortunate to be a member of LiUNA, and I know that as workers, we need to continue organizing and come together to share our stories. We must demand fair wages, benefits, training, safe worksites, and health and safety equipment each and every day for all workers in New York.

-Silvia is a member of Laborers Local 1010, an affiliate of the International Union of Laborers of North America (LiUNA). Sylvia is also a member New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), a community-based non-profit located in Queens that empowers immigrant workers.