Workers rebuilding after Sandy will get donated safety gear

National Day Laborer Organizing Network officials discuss the National Day Laborer Organizing Network officials discuss the distribution of 2,500 donated personal safety equipment kits to New Jersey and New York workers assisting with efforts to repair damage from Hurricane Sandy, at Baruch College. (Feb 5, 2013) Photo Credit: Bruce Gilbert

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Undocumented day laborers rebuilding the Sandy-wrecked coastline will receive donated safety gear -- masks, gloves, helmets, goggles and reflective jackets.

Labor groups representing the workers from Long Island, New York City and New Jersey received about 2,500 $40 kits. The kits will be distributed at street corner labor stops where contractors hire day workers to gut, clean and rebuild the thousands of homes destroyed by superstorm Sandy.

At a news conference earlier this month at Baruch College in Manhattan, labor representatives estimated that more than 8,000 undocumented day laborers are working in the region.

"It's probably a lot higher since Sandy," said Nadia Marin-Molina, 43, of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. She said her group expected to distribute at least 5,000 kits, which are being donated by the Ford and Robin Hood foundations as well as construction companies.

"This is just the beginning," said Marin-Molina. "We are educating our workers on the hazards they are facing and how to use their equipment. We are also building an awareness that despite their immigration status, they have a right to a safe workplace," she said, adding that the effort is being collaborated with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Gabriel Banos, 28, a day laborer from Uniondale, said the safety kits are needed because many contractors do not supply masks or gloves. "And if they do, they expect us to use them the next day, which is not acceptable. Thank God we will be getting this new equipment."

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Banos said workers are exposed to harsh fumes that "makes one dizzy. It's like smelling gas, so you have to take 10 to 15 minute breaks every hour to breathe, but some bosses don't allow it and that is very sad."

Day workers have been gutting and throwing out debris and "bathing" what is left of the homes with bleach and a mold disinfectant, Banos said.

"Day laborers are first responders," said Omar Henriquez, 55, of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. "Like on 9/11 and Katrina and now Sandy, we want to make sure our workers do not become ill," Henriquez said. He noted that hundreds of undocumented workers became sick because they did not wear respiratory masks while cleaning dust and debris at Ground Zero.

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Henriquez said the network is recording the names of the Sandy workers and their employers in case the day laborers get sick and need to apply for workers' compensation.

Lilliam Juarez, of the Workplace Project in Hempstead, said keeping a record of contractors and workers, who earn $125 to $150 day, also should help in cases of wage disputes.

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