Andrea Batista Schlesinger
We all. fall. down.
We've spent a lot of time on the DMIBlog lately focused on the need to protect our civil justice system. It's that system that enables regular people to access the courts, even against very powerful interests, in the pursuit of justice for wrongdoing. Our civil justice system is a great equalizer. And anyone who has ever tried to take on a person or institution with a whole lot more influence and money knows how important equalizers are.
Here's an illustration: What happens to workers who are injured on the job because their company took shortcuts to cut down on costs? And now, imagine that you don't belong to a union, you're new to this country, and you're taking a dangerous job in construction because it's the job you were offered and you have to pay the bills?
Today I read in the paper that Heng Zheng, a 50 year old construction worker, fell to his death at a site in Brooklyn. As the Times reports, "the Department of Buildings issued two citations to the construction company, Leeco Construction Corporation, including one for not placing guard rails on the open floors, a department spokeswoman said."
An anomaly? Unfortunately, no. Just yesterday the paper reported that the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that more workers were killed in New York City last year than in 2003. The most fatalities? The construction industry.
Andrew Friedman, DMI Fellow, has written about the effort to undermine New York's Scaffolding Law, which allows workers to sue for medical bills, lost wages and damages if contractors are found in violation. "If the law is gutted, an important protection will be lost. So, too, will be New York's ability to call itself a place that protects those who come here looking for opportunity and are willing to work for it," writes Andrew.
Protecting our civil justice system isn't about protecting trial lawyers. It's about enforcing standards, and sending the message that immigrant, non-unionized workers aren't expendable.