Metrowest Worker Center Statement on US Department of Labor Lawsuit Alleging Egregious Employer Retaliation Against Injured Immigrant Worker
For more information: Diego Low, Metrowest Worker Center, (508) 532-0575
Metrowest Worker Center is pleased to report that yesterday the U.S. Department of Labor filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that employer Tara Construction and its CEO Pedro Pirez egregiously and illegally retaliated against a worker who suffered and reported a serious workplace injury -- causing the worker to be arrested and detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). We hope that workers throughout the region take heart from USDOL’s
action and feel empowered to pursue their legal and human rights. We also hope that employers take this case as a serious indication of the consequences of using immigration related threats and actions to illegally intimidate workers and to prevent them from exercising their basic workplace rights.
We will not stand for employers who target vulnerable workers to deny them their rights, undermining working conditions for the entire labor force and endangering our communities.
The worker in USDOL’s case, Jose Martin Paz Flores, is a hard-working, devoted husband and father who came to the United States over 18 years ago, fleeing violence and crime in his native Honduras. Since then, Mr. Paz Flores has established a life for himself and his family in the Boston area, raising his five children together with his wife and supporting them as a construction worker. On March 29, 2017, Mr. Paz Flores fell from a ladder while working as a
drywall taper for Tara Construction. He fractured his femur in the fall, requiring immediate hospitalization and surgery. Mr. Paz Flores soon learned, however, that Tara Construction had allowed its workers’ compensation insurance policy to lapse and, as a result, that he would not begin receiving wage loss compensation and medical coverage as required by law.
After being notified that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) had initiated an inquiry into the accident, and after also receiving notification that Mr. Paz Flores’ workers’ compensation insurance claim had been denied because of the policy lapse, Mr. Pirez and Tara Construction seemingly recognized the seriousness of their failure to meet their legal obligations. In an apparent attempt to prevent Mr. Paz Flores from pursuing his rights, Mr. Pirez and Tara Construction retaliated against him in a dramatic and life-changing way: Mr. Pirez contacted and collaborated with the Boston Police Department to have Mr. Paz Flores arrested and detained by ICE. On May 10, 2017, Mr. Pirez lured Mr. Paz Flores to the Tara Construction office with a promise of financial support. After handing Mr. Paz Flores $500 in cash, Mr. Pirez and others from Tara Construction watched as he left the office on crutches, returned to the car where a friend and his toddler son waited for him, and was detained and arrested by ICE.
Mr. Paz Flores subsequently spent 12 days in ICE detention, causing him great suffering and threatening his precarious medical recovery. He experienced excruciating physical pain in his leg that was worsened by trying to use crutches while his hands and feet were shackled, as well as the denial of pain medication for several days. His family was plunged into a financial and emotional crisis, suffering devastating fear and anxiety that he could be deported, leaving them without a husband and father. His two-year-old son could not sleep after having seen his father arrested.
The nonprofit human rights organization Metrowest Worker Center, together with workers’ compensation attorney Stacie Sobosik and immigration attorney Christina Corbaci, rallied public pressure and initiated government investigations in order to assist in obtaining Mr. Paz Flores’ release from detention. Yesterday’s filing by USDOL is the outcome of its OSHA investigation into the unlawful retaliation against Mr. Paz Flores for the protected activities of reporting a workplace injury and causing OSHA to initiate an inquiry. Attorney Audrey Richardson of Greater Boston Legal Services represents Mr. Paz Flores as a witness in the USDOL matter.
The brazenness of Tara Construction and Pedro Pirez’s retaliatory actions in this case are stunning. However, the basic pattern of employers who threaten retaliation, or who more subtly retaliate against workers to deter them from asserting their rights by reporting workplace injuries and other violations of their rights (including sexual harassment and wage theft), is a daily reality. While we are extremely concerned about the role of the Boston Police Department in this case and in collaborating with ICE more generally, the Metrowest Worker Center and allies reiterate that USDOL’s filing is a victory for workers’ rights and immigrant rights in the Commonwealth. This case is an important first step toward protecting workers, especially immigrant workers, from unlawful retaliation for exercising their basic workplace rights.
For news coverage of this issue:
Exciting News for Casa
The Metrowest Worker Center - Casa is happy to share the news with you that Liz Garrigan-Byerly will be assuming the role of Assistant Director for Casa. It will be a full time position, which will include shepherding Metrowest Immigrant Solidarity Network as it continues to evolve. Liz has been Associate Pastor at the Village Church in Wellesley since 2014 and lives in Framingham with her husband and daughter. You all have watched as she has made time to help shape the formation of MISN and helped guide it through its growing pains. She will continue to support MISN in her new role at Casa and we hope will be able to devote more time and focus to developing our outreach and trainings. She will also be doing program support with Casa's work on wage theft and injured workers and help with fundraising for all of this work. She will begin two days a week in March, three days a week in April and then transition to full time in May. It is a great gift for Casa that she feels called to do this work full time.
In more big news, Brenda Quintana, our Quaker Service Volunteer/Fellow will transition to being full time staff supporting the injured worker project in particular when her fellowship ends in July. Brenda brings a wonderful presence to her work and we are delighted that she wants to continue to work with us next year.
This is a time of amazing and wonderful growth for Casa. I am so grateful that both of these amazing women will be helping Diego carry the work of Casa forward. As you know, the work of both addressing people's immediate needs and efforts to change the system that creates their nightmares has grown these past few years. It is essential that we build a strong community that cares for all in our midst and together work to undo the systems that oppress and terrify people. We are also grateful for what each of you contribute to this work.