September 14, 2007

Justice for an Undocumented Worker?

Here's an update on a case we recently blogged. Edgar Velasquez worked for Billy G's Tree Service in Rhode Island. He sliced open his face with a chain saw (ouch!). When he tried to file for workers comp benefits, his employer fired him. Edgar was an undocumented worker. The employer did not carry workers comp insurance.

On August 2, 2006, Edgar went to the Garrahy Courthouse in Providence for a hearing on his comp claim. He was met outside by immigration agents, accompanied by Billy Gorman, his former boss. As he watched the agents take Edgar away, Gorman was heard to say "Adios, Edgar." Edgar was deported to Mexico later that month. (Gee, I wonder who dropped a dime...)

Edgar, who lives in a remote mountain village in the state of Chiapas, has not received any further medical treatment for his injury. The scar on his face is still infected. Ho, Hum. Another immigrant worker screwed by an unscrupulous employer. End of story? Not quite.

Billy Gorman has a few legal problems of his own. He is being sued by the state for running a business without the requisite workers comp insurance. And Rhode Islanders, who recognize a serious injustice when they see it, are raising money to return Edgar to this country - so he can pursue his comp claim, among other possible legal remedies against Gorman.

Ah, but how will Edgar get back into the country, when he was here illegally at the time of the injury? Germann Murguia, the Mexican consul general in Boston, says they are trying to bring Edgar back through a humanitarian visa. "This is up to the American authorities, but we are trying to do as much as possible. He deserves compensation."

I wonder if Billy has a call into his congressman, expressing his moral outrage that Edgar might be allowed back in. "He never should have been here in the first place!"

Gorman's lawyer, Michael St. Pierre, reports that Gorman has no assets to satisfy the claim, which exceeds $70,000 in medical bills alone. St. Pierre also says that Edgar may not have met the definition of "employee." I guess he must have been an independent contractor.

Here's hoping that Edgar finds his way back to America for a brief and legal visit. He needs some medical attention for his injury. And he deserves the opportunity to watch them put the cuffs on his former boss and to say, with all due sincerity, "Adios, Billy."



Although I agree that Edgar should recover from Billy, or from the State's fund for those who are injured while employed by uninsured employers, he doesn't need to be granted a return to the US. This would reward the illegality of his prior "visit" to the US. Most lawyers have represented clients in absentia, even clients in another country who have a cause of action here. Let him hire a local attorney who can prosecute his case for him in work comp court. Work comp lawyers usually get paid from the proceeds of the case, so Edgar's representation would be no different than the normal work comp representation. The ALJ could order the responsible party to send funds to Edgar in Mexico, where he can get proper treatment near his home. This might even be a faster solution than waiting for the American authorities to grant him passage back to the US for this limited purpose. Although the State where I live doesn't throw employers in jail for not carrying work comp insurance [perhaps Rhode Island does?], I do agree that Billy needs to be punished financially to the fullest extent of the law for his brazen flaunting of the work comp laws.

I find myself agreeing with Disagree, at least to some extent. There is in fact a "Plan B" for Edgar that involves handling the claim from Mexico. I prefer giving him an opportunity to face the man who so cynically removed him from the country (or so it appears). And technically, disagree is correct: there will be no handcuffs for Billy G. In writing up this sad case, I could not resist the image of Billy G getting his just rewards. Let's just call it poetic license. And thanks to Disagree for a thoughtful and well written response.

Why in the world should Edgar get compensation for his injury when he was working for a business that did not supply workers comp. He is just as responsible for not doing his research on the company he was working for & for the employer not abidding by the rules of business ownership. It works both ways!

Danielle: You would impose a very high standard, indeed. Have you ever asked to see your employer's workers comp policy? I know I haven't. Comp is a statutory requirement for anyone with employees. The burden is strictly on the employer. Regardless of his immigration status, Edgar is covered by comp. Given his employer's lack of coverage, the state fund will underwrite the benefits - and all RI businesses will ultimately share the cost.


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This page contains a single entry by Jon Coppelman published on September 14, 2007 1:26 PM.

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