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Elefterakis, Elefterakis & Panek

Undocumented workers denied some workers' compensation benefits

It's a cornerstone of American industry that workers who get hurt on the job are entitled to certain economic benefits. But those provisions and benefits are severely slashed or eliminated entirely when the injured worker is undocumented.

In the current political climate, if the injured undocumented worker is lucky enough to survive the accident, he or she will surely be subject to deportation. Even if the worker miraculously evades deportation, the chance of him or her receiving fair compensation for the injuries are slim.

In our global economy, undocumented immigrants working in the United States get treated as if they were disposable. Once they are damaged or worn out, they're quickly cast aside as refuse rather than resources.

The law supports employers

How did we get to this point? Back in 2002, the Supreme Court heard the case of Hoffman Plastic Compounds v. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). While this case did not deal with workers' injuries — its focus was on workers fired for union-organizing activities — the court's decision not to award specific compensation (back-pay) to certain workers hinged on their undocumented status as workers in the U.S.

That set a precedent which is still cited today when denying undocumented workers their rights to full compensation and other benefits. This flies in the face of true justice, as immigrant workers are highly vulnerable and often work in high-risk industries where they frequently get denied basic health protections.

Workplace culture of fear

Many undocumented workers elect not to pursue on-the-job injury claims out of fear that they and their families can get tossed out of the country. They limp along, attempting to disguise the extent and severity of the injuries in order to be able to continue earning a paycheck.

But having injured or ill workers laboring on job sites is not without consequence. Here in New York City, undocumented workers take on some of the most laborious and high-risk jobs in the construction industry. They ascend shaky scaffolding to wash skyscraper windows stories above the streets of Manhattan. The dig trenches at excavation sites in the Bronx.

When these wounded workers try to carry out their job duties while coping with their injuries, safety for all workers and passers-by is compromised.

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