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Safety calls cite death of Corona man

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After a Corona man was killed last month in a construction site plunge, state Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) and Latino labor activists came together to call for more stringent enforcement of work site safety.

On Sept. 11, Miguel Rodriguez was working at a site in Manhattan when he fell to his death because his safety harness was not tethered to the building.

He left behind his wife, Berta, and two sons, Kevin, 7, and Luis, 17.

"He was an excellent father, an excellent husband," Berta Rodriguez said last Thursday. "He supported us, and now he's gone."

Peralta is organizing a fund-raiser to pay for Rodriguez's funeral costs at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Institute for the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Elderly Corona Senior Center at 108-74 Roosevelt Ave.

Peralta blamed Rodriguez's employer for neglecting to give its workers the federally mandated safety training courses approved by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Current law does not specify any penalties or any enforcement for contracts of $250,000 or more, where workers do not have proper OSHA training.

"No one seems to be asking the right questions until someone dies," he said. "Why should they? The current law doesn't say they need to."

Peralta said he is sponsoring new legislation that would levy a $5,000 fine against any employer that has not trained its employees.

Construction fatalities are on the rise this year. So far 21 people have been killed on the job in the city since January, compared with 12 deaths in all of 2007.

Oscar Paredes, the Latin American Workers Project president, said 17 of those 21 killed were undocumented Latino workers. According to a 2006 survey his organization conducted, there were 4,000 undocumented workers living in the city and 40 percent lived in Queens.

Now, he said, the number is more like 15,000, many of whom congregate at the city's two busiest corners for day laborers: Bensonhurst in Brooklyn and Roosevelt Avenue in Woodside and Jackson Heights.

Paredes agreed the OSHA training law needed strengthening.

"The laws are so weak," he said. "When we go to court, the contractors laugh in our faces."

Another issue standing between undocumented workers and proper safety training is fear of the government. Diana Cortes, a director for the U.S. Labor Department, said many laborers are afraid of being investigated or deported.

"There's a trust issue, but we work with churches and community organizations and Latin American consulates, tell them what to do so they can make those complaints if workers don't want to," she said.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 6:37 pm, October 10, 2011
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