Posted April 22, 2013 at 8:00 am, in Union Matters
Carlos Centero, a contingent worker at the Raani Corp.’s chemical plant in Bedford Park, Ill., lost his life in a workplace scalding when the company forced him to labor under conditions both Centero and Raani knew were unsafe.
In the year leading up to Centero’s death in December 2011, workers regularly suffered chemical burns on the job at Raani. These included direct employees and those like Centero, called contingent workers because they are hired on a temporary basis through an agency.
Despite the repeated burns at Raani, the only protective equipment the company issued was latex gloves. These did not shield Centero when a mixture of hot water and citric acid sprayed out of an open hatch in a tank he was cleaning.
There are approximately 2.5 million contingent workers in the United States. Like Centero, many lack basic workplace protections. With low pay and little training, these workers often fear protesting hazardous conditions because doing so might interfere with getting further job placements through the temp agency.
Contingent workers would be safer if they were unionized. Labor unions work tirelessly to secure proper training for members and to ensure workplaces meet federal guidelines on health and safety. Unions also intervene when employers try to retaliate against workers who demand safer workplaces.
Centero knew the work he did at Raani was dangerous and that his safety equipment was deficient. Six months before he was killed, chemicals splashed into one of his eyes leaving him partially blind for three days. He kept quiet about it because he couldn’t afford to lose the meager income his job at Raani provided.
In a recent study, the Center for Progressive Reform, a nonprofit research and educational organization, found that the environment of uncertainty and intimidation in which most contingent employees work makes their jobs especially unsafe.
Companies use temporary workers to boost profits and diminish corporate accountability, according to the report.
Outside staffing agencies hire workers for contingent positions and pay workers’ compensation insurance. This allows companies to disassociate themselves from training and supervising contingent workers and leaves them financially insulated when these workers get hurt. (more…)