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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, February 2, 2009, 12:19 pm

Business rules must catch up to growing Latino work force

By Michael Lopez

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and Lorena Fisher

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    As many North Bay companies in the construction, agricultural, manufacturing and other industries hire an increasing number of Latin American immigrant workers, it’s imperative that these companies’ business owners, HR personnel and supervisors understand and have clear communication with these employees on safety precautions, rules and procedures on the job.

    Latinos are hard workers but tend to have frequent injuries. They take more risks on the job because safety has often never been a consideration in the Latin American companies where they previously worked.

    Many times they don’t understand the American company’s safety procedures and policies. Other actions they may take because of language and cultural differences may include not reporting incidents because they don’t want to rock the boat and lose their jobs. Latinos may also indicate an understanding of safety procedures when they really don’t because of the language barrier.

    In fact, workplace fatalities have increased sharply for Latino and immigrant workers, according to the new 2008 AFL-CIO annual study “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect.” In 2006, fatal injuries among Latino workers increased by 7 percent over 2005, with 990 fatalities among this group of workers, the highest number ever reported.

    To reduce the number of Latino worker injuries, retain good employees, prevent your workers’ comp costs from skyrocketing and be prepared for increasing government action enforcing immigration law, additional effort and time must be exerted with your Latino work force.

    You need to make sure that they receive and understand the company safety procedures and policies, usually in their own language; feel comfortable with the company culture; and understand the employee’s and employer’s rights and responsibilities in the immigration area.

    A conference on March 12 in Santa Rosa will address these challenges and will review some techniques that have been shown to be effective for employers in overcoming language and cultural barriers.

    This fourth-annual conference, “Latinos in the Workplace,” is designed to give employers and supervisors the tools to address diversification, safety, education, communication and compliance.

    Major topics to be discussed include the challenges facing this potential work force and their education, especially in relation to Latino graduation rates.

    There will be a more detailed presentation describing various programs in the schools that address these challenges, what the ultimate outcome will be and how soon will this impact the labor force in Sonoma County. Speakers also will present practical measures businesses can take to comply with current immigration law, understand how to address the common social security mismatch issue and know the employer’s and employee’s rights and responsibilities in this area.

    Speakers include Ernesto Olivares, Santa Rosa City councilmember; Ben Stone, director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board; Dr. Carl Wong, Sonoma County superintendent of schools; Michael Saqui, The Saqui Law Group; Lupe Sandoval of Bilingual Safety Solutions; and Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo.

    Conference topics include education and compliance

    The fourth-annual “Latinos in the Workplace” conference will be held March 12.

    The conference offers employers and supervisors the tools to address diversification, OSHA safety, education and immigration compliance, and it will provide proven strategies to reduce injuries and improve overall communication.

    The workshop will be held from 7:30 a.m. to noon in Santa Rosa at the Hilton Hotel at 3555 Round Barn Blvd. The cost per person is $45 for ECA and NCBE members and $50 for non-members.

    Conference organizers are the Engineering Contractors Association and Vantreo Insurance Brokerage. Corporate sponsors include the Business Journal, Oak Grove Construction, North Coast Builders Exchange, KZST and KJZY Radio and others.

    To sign up or for more information, call Mary Kennedy at the ECA at 707-546-5500, or obtain a registration form from the events section of www.nceca.org.

    •••

    Michael Lopez is a vice president of Vantreo Insurance Brokerage. He provides risk reduction strategies for builders, developers and manufacturers seeking innovative commercial insurance solutions. His insurance expertise is based on more than 20 years in the industry and highlights in-depth knowledge of construction risk management, financial planning and corporate retirement issues. Mr. Lopez can be reached at 707-546-2300 ext. 237, mlopez@vantreo.com or www.vantreo.com.

    Lorena Fisher is the executive director of the Northern California Engineering Contractors Association, the only professional trade association of both union and non-union general engineering contractors in Northern California, dedicated to promoting the construction industry through education and training, political advocacy and community relations. She can be reached at 707-546-5500, Lorena@nceca.org or www.nceca.org.

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