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At Work: Construction Strike

A conversation with two workers who want fair treatment

 by Stephanie Berger
 published on Thursday, October 20, 2005


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In most industries, the government requires fair and safe working environments for employees. But for undocumented workers of Great Western Erectors, one of the companies constructing ASU's McAllister Village residence halls, a positive working environment is not assured.

Great Western employees complain of harassment, a hostile work environment, low pay, no overtime and a lack of water provided during the workday.

According to the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration, undocumented workers are guaranteed the same safety rights as citizens. They can also join labor unions to try to gain fairer treatment.

Jose Corrales, 26, and Juan Luis Cruz, 21, are both workers striking from Great Western, a Texas-based company with a Phoenix branch.

Corrales, who worked at the ASU site, says he feels mistreated at work.

"One of the main problems was the yelling and cursing and intimidation," he says. "There were threats that we would be blamed if there were any problems on the site."

Corrales says he spent six months traveling from Honduras, through Guatemala and Mexico, to get to Arizona for an opportunity at a job and a better life. He says he left behind the family that he came here to support, and who he may never see again because the journey is too difficult.

"I thought everything would be different when I got to the United States, but with my experience, the way managers treat their workers here is even worse," he says.

Cruz traveled six days from Oaxaca, Mexico, to Arizona in search of employment. His uncle encouraged him to get a job in construction when he arrived, but he says his treatment by Great Western at Scottsdale sites has been a letdown.

"There was a lot of threatening that if we didn't work faster there would be consequences," he says. "We worked all day with no more than a gallon of water that we had to buy for ourselves."

Cruz adds there were times when employees worked 12 to 13 hours on Thursday, but would be sent home early on Friday so Great Western would not have to pay them overtime.

Ray Jensen, associate vice president for University Business Services, says that ASU's general contractor has not found injustices occurring specifically on the campus site.

"We are satisfied as much as we can be that the worksite at ASU is being reasonably managed," he says. "What's happening elsewhere, I frankly don't know."

But ASU groups such as the Young Democrats and Student Labor Action Coalition continue to protest despite ASU's findings.

"We are asking ASU to step up to the plate and take responsibility for its contractors and subcontractors," said Kyrsten Sinema, a state legislator who spoke in front of a group of concerned students on Oct. 11.

But Jensen says ASU has not seen a reason to insist that its contractors not work with Great Western.

"We would have to have a basis for that, and it would have to be far more than allegations repeated by students that they have gotten from employees," Jensen says.

Jensen adds ASU cannot take direct action with Great Western because it is subcontracted by Core Construction, the company that ASU has a contractual agreement with to build McAllister Village. He says ASU sent a letter to seven companies that contract with the University and subcontract with Great Western, asking them to help ASU promote safe and healthy working environments and the ethical treatment of workers.

"I think we've taken very appropriate steps at this point," Jensen says.

Although Corrales and Cruz say they appreciate support from ASU, they recognize the need for their action.

"It's very difficult because we could get a job at another company that would pay more, but we think it's important to stop the injustice here," Corrales says.

The Ironworkers International union and families of other Great Western employees have been helping support the strikers, but Cruz says it's still tough to be out of work.

"It's difficult to find money to pay all the bills," he says.

Cruz and Corrales say they would be happy to return to work for Great Western if the company would give them benefits and treat all of its workers fairly.

"We are determined to continue fighting as long as it takes," Cruz says. "We're going to keep going until we have victory."

Reach the reporter at stephanie.m.berger@asu.edu.



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