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Immigrants: Whose Job is it Anyway?

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What is that old saying…many hands makes light work? But what happens when the left hand can't communicate with the right? Let's say you're a construction worker on a scaffold ten stories above ground. And you can't talk to the guy next to you because he speaks Polish or Spanish?

Sounds dangerous and I want to know if it's a problem on job sites.

Well it is if you ask Bill.
He's a teamster and he's all worked up because he believes that with the influx of immigrants…he's gonna have to work with some guy who doesn't speak English.
Bill is standing by his big red oil truck
and it's so loud I'm speaking English and he can't even understand me.

Bill's working on a high – rise at State and Roosevelt.
The site is a tangle of trucks, equipment and building materials.
Because Safety is such a big deal on construction sites, I have to chat with Bill and his crew across the street.
Honestly…I'm worried and I'm standing flat footed on the ground.

I'm in the shadow of a massive crane.
It's here to lift anything the guys need from the groundup to whatever floor they're working on. The driver sits in a small cab not that different from a really compact car.
And like any car…there are blind spots.

Carl is the crane operator.
like his buddy Bill he won't give me his last name because ….what happens on the job site…stays on the job site.

I'm looking at Carl in his diamonded studded ear hoops and thinking how dangerous could his job really be if he's wearing jewelry to work?

And… even though it's never happened… he too is freaked out about the possibility that he could hurt somebody. Because… If he can't see the guy he's working with he has to yell…a lot!

Roll tape:
IQ: “well…since I work…”
OQ: “…touchy situation.”
TRT: 1:22

Still …for all of their worries.  Bill and Carl could not give me one example of any body getting hurt on the job because he couldn't speak English. And neither could Scott Allen, OSHA'S Deputy Director of Public Affairs.
That doesn't mean it doesn't happen. We just don't have the numbers.

So if…and mind you I said IF,injury isn't the main problem, what about all the fear that immigrants are taking all the jobs away from hard working, red blooded Americans?

My next stop is a hotdog stand near sox stadium. Where I find two men in dusty jeans and t shirts enjoying tasty red hot- hot dogs and deliciously greasy fries.

Monroe Milan and Anthony Short work
for a construction company called Central Building. 
Even though they work together, they can't agree on whether or not immigrants are taking away jobs.

Roll tape:
Iq; “to me…”
Oq: “…it becomes a problem.”
TRT: :40

Here's the deal. Contractors hire day laborers and pay them cash…usually around one hundred dollars a day. 

IQ: “They meet in places
OQ: “…180-160.”

For those guys cash money is what a roof over their heads. But the problem is that hiring for cash under the table can drive down the prevailing wage paid to union workers.

Why would a contractor pay a union laborer
thirty one dollars an hour, when he can pay a 
nonunion day laborer from one of the shape-up halls
a hundred dollars a day? 

From there I head to a job site at
340 east Randolph across the street from Millennium Park; Where I see a young man making his way to the lunch truck. His name is Pauly and the stickers on his hardhat scream union man.

Roll tape:
Iq: “i've been on lines…”
Oq: “…just on that fact.”
Trt: 1:35

Pauly is fairly new to the union. I want to get the opinion of guys with more time on the job.  Ironworker Mike Barbaro and Eric Dean general organizer for the ironworkers union are those kind of guys.
If you add it up…they have about sixty years worth of construction salt on their bones. And their list of complaints about immigrants goes beyond the job site.

Roll tape:
Iq: “ and the other thing…
Oq: “…hopefully it can change
Trt: 3:49

Fellow iron worker Joel Gonzales was born in Mexico
and has been a union member for thirty five years.
He can see more than one side of the issue.

Roll tape:
Iq: “it's a pretty…
Oq: “…getting out of hand.”
Trt: 41sec.

Although the men I spoke within the course of my brief investigation were worried about immigrants' influence on the workplace…
I never felt that any of them actually hated immigrants.
their feelings seem more fear based. 
They worry that immigrants are going to take food from their mouths and the clothes right off their backs.

For them…these fears are real…true or not.

I'm Gianofer Fields.

Chicago Public Radio.

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