BOSTON - The University of Massachusetts Lowell Work Environment Justice Fund today awarded $68,000 to a partnership that is helping immigrants promote safe working conditions.
UMass Lowell officials presented the award to the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) and its partners, the Chelsea Human Services Collaborative and Western MassCOSH, at a ceremony in the UMass President's Office, 1 Beacon St.
The Immigrants Safe Work Initiative is designed to provide 500 immigrants in Greater Boston and 175 Latino workers in Western Massachusetts with information, tools and support to end dangerous work situations and promote secure employment. In addition to training immigrants on workers' rights, it will provide a forum for these minority groups to share experiences and strategies for solving health and safety problems in the workplace.
"We are pleased that the University is in a position to help efforts to improve the work environment of immigrant workers, those who are most at risk of on-the-job injuries in Massachusetts and those whose rights to safe and productive lives are the most vulnerable," said Prof. Charles Levenstein of UMass Lowell's Work Environment Department.
"We congratulate MassCOSH on its long history of advocacy for workers and we applaud the alliance between MassCOSH and immigrant community organizations. Only through building such coalitions can we hope to bring a public spotlight on the hazardous conditions which immigrant workers suffer - and remedy these intolerable situations," he added.
Immigrants are considered at a higher risk to encounter hazardous working conditions due to insufficient training, lack of communication and substandard safety measures. In the past month alone, three immigrants in Massachusetts died on the job. According to a recent study by Northeastern University, 45 percent of semi-skilled, blue-collared workers in the state are immigrants.
The Work Environment Justice Fund was established in 1994 by the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office, as part of a settlement with Bay State Smelting which had exposed its mostly immigrant workforce to hazardous levels of lead, copper, zinc, cadmium and carbon monoxide. The fund supports projects that promote prevention of occupational disease and injury and provide advocacy services for workers faced with health and safety problems.
"The Work Environment Justice Fund will provide critical support to MassCOSH's effort to help immigrant workers fight against dangerous and unhealthy working conditions," said Jean Carmel St.-Juste, who will coordinate the Initiative for MassCOSH.
In addition to representatives of UMass Lowell and the award recipients, participants at today's ceremony included State Rep. Jarrett T. Barrios, incoming state senator who will represent Chelsea; Ana Vaguerano, chair of the Latino Immigrant Committee; Letitia Davis, director of the Mass. Department of Health's Occupational Health Surveillance Program; Joan Parker, former director of safety for the Mass. Attorney General's Office; and Attorney Martin Levin, former chief of the AG's Environmental Crimes Strike Force, who prosecuted the Bay State Smelting Case.