By Maricarmen Amado
PARAMUS, NEW JERSEY – U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said on Thursday that the underground economy in this country needs to be eliminated, a measure that will affect mainly Latino workers, as the country begins a debate on immigration reform this summer.
During her visit to the Paramus training center of Local 164 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Solis said that day laborers, the victims of outrages like employers refusing to pay them, are a problem that will not be solved until the country achieves comprehensive immigration reform.
The country’s first Hispanic labor secretary noted that many undocumented workers are too scared to file complaints against exploitative employers.
Solis also spoke about the urgency of strengthening the security of workers who are the victims of on-the-job accidents, particularly in the construction sector, an issue that is a priority for her department.
“In terms of Latinos in the work force, we’re probably the ones that are faced with the most fatalities and injuries,” she said, citing the large presence of Hispanics in the construction industry.
Hispanic workers are at greater risk of suffering fatal work accidents than other groups, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Between 1996 and 2006, 11,303 Hispanics died in work-related accidents, 13 percent of all workplace deaths during that period.
During her visit to the IBEW training facility, Solis checked on the advances in training unemployed workers for “green jobs,” like installing solar panels.
New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, who accompanied the secretary, was congratulated by Solis for his initiative to increase the development of alternative energy sources in his state and training workers to form part of the labor force in jobs that help preserve the environment.
The governor’s administration has set a goal of creating 20,000 green jobs in the Garden State by 2020.
“The most important thing we have to do is lift the overall economy because a rising tide lifts all boats,” Corzine said.
New Jersey was one of the first states to receive part of the economic stimulus package to help workers who lose their jobs as a result of the recession.
The state’s share of the stimulus package includes $72 million for training workers and $214 million for paying the unemployment checks of thousands of workers who have been laid off.
According to a recent Pew Hispanic Center survey, in New Jersey live about 500,000 undocumented immigrants representing 4 percent of the population and 5.4 percent of the workforce.
New Jersey is the state with the fifth-largest number of undocumented immigrants.
As a result of the economic situation, the state had to cut its annual budget by $3 billion.
Unemployment in New Jersey rose to 8.2 percent in March. EFE