Dear Secretary Scalia:
On Oct. 12, construction worker Delmer Joel Ramírez Palma was working on the Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans when the structure collapsed, killing three workers and injuring dozens more. Ramirez Palma sustained serious injuries, but survived.
Ramírez Palma had done construction work in the New Orleans area for 18 years. On this job, he had on multiple occasions before the collapse raised safety concerns with his supervisor, including measurements showing that the building was not level.
Two days after the collapse, Ramírez Palma was trying to recuperate while fishing in Louisiana’s Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge. He was approached by U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers and asked to produce a fishing license, which he did.
He was then asked for a driver’s license, which he didn’t have. The officers summoned Border Patrol agents, who placed him under arrest. They called ICE, and he was placed in detention.
While in ICE custody, Ramirez — an important witness to this tragic event — was interviewed three times by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA is investigating the collapse, to determine whether safety violations occurred and, if so, which parties should be held accountable. It is also looking into whether Ramirez’s arrest and detention relate to his complaints to his s
Ramirez, who is married with three children, was deported to his native Honduras on Friday, November 29.
The secretary of the Louisiana Workforce Commission calls Ramirez a “crucial witness” in the ongoing investigation. It is also clear that his deportation has chilled other workers at the Hard Rock Hotel work site. Those workers know that Ramírez spoke out and was deported — a fate they understandably fear could be theirs if they similarly come forward with information.
OSHA cannot perform its worker protection mission effectively if workers – documented or undocumented — fear adverse consequences if they complain about workplace conditions, or if they cooperate in an OSHA investigation. When workers are silenced by fear, unsafe conditions go unnoticed by OSHA and uncorrected, and the strength of cases the agency brings is compromised.
That is why ICE’s apprehension of Delmer Joel Ramirez Palma during OSHA’s investigation of the collapse, and his subsequent deportation, severely undermine the worker protection laws the Department is sworn to enforce, and that is why the Department should do everything it can to return him to New Orleans and to his family.
Therefore, we, the undersigned members of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) board of directors, COSH Network, and the Protecting Workers Alliance call on you, as Secretary of Labor, to make every effort to bring Mr. Ramirez Palma back to the U.S., so that he may properly assist OSHA in this significant investigation, and so that other workers throughout this country, regardless of documentation status, will know that the Department has their back when they assert their right to a safe and healthy workplace.
Interfaith Worker Justice
National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH)
National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON)
National Employment Law Project (NELP)
National Women’s Law Center
New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ)
Working Families United [including the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, UNITE HERE, the Ironworkers, the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Teamsters, and Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA)]