June 12, 2008

Footnote on a Fatality

Yesterday we blogged the death of Lauro Ortega, who was crushed while excavating a building site in New York. We assumed that he was protected by workers comp, even as his lawyer pursued more lucrative remedies from the (recently indicted) employer, William Lattarulo. It appears that we were just a bit naive. Ortega was an illegal immigrant, working construction jobs on a cash-only basis. He labored long hours, six days a week, sending most of his earnings home to his family in Cuenca, Ecuador.

"He came to this country to work. He liked to do it. That was his love," his brother is quoted as saying. Ortega lived in a tiny apartment by himself; he spoke to his wife and children every day. He had very little life outside of work, with Sundays reserved for church. He would have preferred to stay in Ecuador, but there was no work available. He came to this country for one simple reason: it's where the jobs - and the money - are.

There will be readers who lack sympathy for Ortega. He was here illegally. He was paid under the table. He took his chances and reaped a harsh reward. At best, he is viewed with considerable ambiguity: he was here illegally, but to some degree our laws still protect him as a worker. His family will receive some compensation for his untimely death: either in the form of workers compensation (presumably paid out of the state fund) or tort liability stemming from his employer's negligence. It will take some time, but eventually his family will receive financial support simply because Ortega died at work in America.

I am struck by the quiet desperation that brought Ortega to New York. I am impressed by his willingness to work hard, every day, and use his earnings to support a wife and two children back home. I am saddened by his sudden and very unnecessary death. And I am frustrated by the stalemate in Congress, which has been unable to construct a reasonable and just solution to what has become an intractable problem of enormous magnitude. There are over 12 million workers like Ortega, all of whom are here illegally and most of whom are working hard and doing jobs that need to be done.

Yes, they are illegal. And yes, we need their services. Two simple, contradictory facts. What, if anything, are we going to do about it?




I don't believe anyone can help but be sympathetic to Mr. Ortega's family. Tragic death is not something to wish on strangers legal or illegal.

I have made my views known in multiple forums concerning illegal aliens.

I am curious about your views about what should be done with 12 million illegal aliens. We know that at least half arrived here legally so closing the border and building a wall does not solve the problem.

I just was asked yesterday about a young lady who just graduated from a State University with a degree in accounting and information technology. Where should she apply for a job since she was illegal? She had come with her parents when she was 3. My best answer was to hang out her own shingle since then nobody would ask. Of course she can never travel overseas because she can't get a passport.

What a shame.

We need to come to a general consensus about what to do and force our congressmen to act on pain of not getting reelected.


Charles Read

I, too, am saddened by the unnecessary and untimely death of Mr. Ortega. In this day and age, any work-related death brought on by employer negligence is unconscionable, and it doesn't matter if the worker is here illegally or not. When our government leaders will finally pay attention to this condition and do something realistic about it is a good question. In my humble opinion, no matter if the worker is here illegally or not, any work-related injury or death should be covered by that state's work comp system. Hopefully one day soon that will come to fruition.

Jon, I'm glad you were able to unearth this information.

I too agree that the death is tragic and that the employer should not benefit from those folks that can be taken advantage of due to possessing a good work ethic.
But what are we to do? Amnesty for those here now? what about future illegal workers? What should our immigration policy be - "we will enforce starting...NOW?"
I agree with Jon that the legislature has been lackluster (Jon has asked me to tone down a previous comment) with this issue.
What should we do?

I take it from your comment that Mr. Ortega was not covered by workers' compensation. This would not be because of his illegal status, it would be because he was treated as an independent contractor by his "employer" and thus responsible for his own industrial insurance. There's a bit of case law on this, but even in Virginia, where I live, hired illegals are considered employees and must be covered by workers' compensation.


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This page contains a single entry by Jon Coppelman published on June 12, 2008 11:13 AM.

Employers as Criminals was the previous entry in this blog.

Health Wonk Review, scaffold survivor update, hand protection, and potential cancer cluster is the next entry in this blog.

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