Survey: Nearly half of the city's food manufacturing workers have been injured on the job

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 3:41pm

The following by New York Daily News reporter Erica Pearson was published on Tuesday, June 24, 2014. Click here to read the article on the Daily News website.

Nearly half the city’s food manufacturing workers have been injured while earning their bread, a new survey has found.

Fifteen per cent said they slipped and fell, 14% were cut, and 10% suffered a back injury, according to the survey, set to be released Tuesday by the legal nonprofit Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project and the advocacy group Brandworkers.

A total of 42% of workers — who prepare and pack products from hummus to wontons — said they were hurt at work.

Researchers were not able to survey enough workers for the report to be statistically significant — but say the data shows an important snapshot of workers’ experiences.

“To see over four in 10 going to work and not making it home in one piece is extremely troubling,” said Daniel Gross, executive director of Brandworkers. “I think it’s reckless disregard for worker health and safety.”

More than one in 10 said employer had told them to do something that put their safety at risk, according to the survey of more than 100 city food manufacturing workers.

“When you’re dealing with heavy machinery and tight production schedules ... there’s a lot of pressure to produce quickly,” Gross said.

Queens worker Manuel Estevez, 48, said he was hit on the head by a metal cart lid while packing and loading artisanal bread for Tom Cat Bakery.

“A bump on my head swelled up like a ball. One of my coworkers got hit so bad (by a lid) that he had to go to the hospital,” he said. “The company doesn’t worry about you, as long as you do your job.”

Estevez, a Dominican immigrant, has been at the Long Island City industrial bakery for six years, working from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., and now earns $11.05 an hour.

It’s tough to support himself and his elderly parents on his wages, said Estevez, who lives in Far Rockaway.

“The work is pretty hard, filling up the trucks with bread. I like my job though, even though the schedule is pretty brutal,” he said.

A general manager at Tom Cat Bakery did not respond to a request for comment.

There were 13 fatalities at city food factories from 2001 to 2011, according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration figures cited in Tuesday’s report.

In 2011, a 22-year-old Guatemalan immigrant named Juan Baten was crushed to death at the Bushwick, Brooklyn, tortilla factory where he worked. He was caught in a dough-mixing machine that was missing a required safety guard.

Nearly three-quarters of the workers surveyed for Tuesday’s report said they didn’t receive job training from their employer. Some 55% said they worked while sick in the past year. The average wage of surveyed workers was $10.48 an hour.

New York City’s food factories are a $5 billion industry, with about 900 firms across the city employing a total of 14,000, according to 2010 Census data. Recent immigrants — largely from Latin America and Asia — make up 70% of the workforce, according to a 2007 Fiscal Policy Institute study.

The groups are calling on the city to take public comment into account before awarding small business loans to food manufacturing employers.

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