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Jul
2015
24

IUPAT Efforts Uncover Labor Abuses, Safety Gaps in Colorado Painting Industry

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As part of its Constructing Justice campaign, the Denver chapter of the International Painters Union and Allied Trades (IUPAT) had conversations with more than 600 union and nonunion painters over the past year to better understand the labor abuses they face.  The results show a widespread epidemic of wage theft, misclassification, and a refusal to abide by safety standards.  

A recent piece in The Colorado Independent highlights the story of commercial painter Juan Deras, who was fired after requesting a respirator mask to protect him from the toxic chemicals he was working with. According to the IUPAT, his story is all too familiar for painters in Colorado:

Deras, who is now preparing for his medical school exams, explained that after a few weeks of working at Craftsman, he began to suffer from shortness of breath, a sore throat and dizziness.
In addition to working with chemicals that made him sick, he rarely received paychecks on time and was forced to use ladders that were dangerously old, broken and too short.

When he complained, Henry did not allow him to enter her office and spoke to him through a cracked door. He said she initially belittled his concerns, saying, “So I’m to give you an armor suit? That’s safety. So I have to tie you to the ladder and tie the ladder to the building? That’s safety.”

After several minutes of calm conversation, Henry said, “If you’re here to cause trouble, we don’t need you.” She fired Deras at the Aurora Craftsman office and slammed the door in his face, he said.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards dictate that employers must provide safety equipment at no cost to their employees.  In painting, safety regulations are often ignored, exposing workers to dangerous chemicals and falls from great heights.  According to the 2014 AFL-CIO Death on the Job report, falls remain among the leading causes of injury and fatality in the construction industry despite education efforts by OSHA, unions, and workers advocacy groups.  

In the unfortunate event that an injured painters is has been misclassified as an independent contractor, it is possible that they will be on the hook for their own medical expenses.  In 2010, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment found that 14.2 percent of the state’s workforce was misclassified.  In the construction industry, 20.1 percent of workers were misclassified: 

Florencio Games, a recent immigrant from Honduras, is a prime example of a misclassified worker.  Sitting at the kitchen table of his fluorescent-lit Aurora apartment, Games recounted that he worked 75-hour weeks painting the 360 Degrees apartment complex in Centennial last fall.  During these four months, he worked for Jose Arias, an employee of BTS Painting & Services Inc., but was not classified as an employee.

In October, Arias suddenly stopped paying him, and Games was forced to borrow money to keep providing for his sister, wife, two children and sick mother.  After weeks of no pay and financial hardship, he left the job.  To this day, Games says he is owed wages for 22 days of unpaid labor, amounting to $2,400.  He is working with lawyers who specialize in wage-theft cases to sue for back pay.

Games added that the men he worked with are also still owed back wages.  Frequently victims of wage theft are immigrants and workers employed in low-wage industries where they are easily replaced.

To read more about misclassification’s wrath, peruse the category on We Party Patriots.

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