Workers walk by a wreath at a construction site in Boston where a scaffolding collapse killed three people in 2006. A total of 903 Latinos died on the job in 2015, the highest total since 2007, the AFL-CIO reports. Credit: Elise Amendola/Associated Press

From meatpacking to agricultural fields, Latino immigrants often work the most menial jobs in America and their on-the-job death rate is 18 percent higher than the average worker, recent statistics show.

The troubling trend has prompted a group of Democratic senators to call on the Labor Department to protect these workers.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and five other lawmakers recently urged Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta to outline how his agency will reduce Latino and immigrant workplace deaths and injuries in light of rollbacks to workplace protections and proposed budget cuts under President Donald Trump.

“For Latinos, who are already statistically more likely to die while at work, these rollbacks and proposed budget cuts, paired with language barriers and reasons workers or employers may not want to report incidents, will surely lead to an increase in workplace deaths,” Menendez said in an email.

Among the alarming statistics: A total of 903 Latinos died on the job in 2015, the highest total of any year since 2007, according to a recent report by the AFL-CIO. First-generation immigrants comprised the majority of those deaths, the report noted. The senators asked Acosta to outline how the Labor Department intends to investigate the spike in Latino and immigrant deaths.

In March, Trump signed a resolution into law that reversed an Obama-era rule requiring companies vying for large federal contracts to disclose labor violations from the last three years. Soon after, Trump signed into law another resolution overturning an Obama-era rule requiring companies to keep accurate records on injuries and illnesses.

These resolutions “have weakened workplace safety, especially in some of our country’s most dangerous work sectors, such as meatpacking, construction and agriculture, where Latino and immigrant workers are numerous,” the Democratic senators wrote in their letter to Acosta.

They also asked Acosta to consider how Trump’s proposed budget cut of $2.5 billion from the Labor Department would affect occupational safety.

One reason for the high workplace-fatality rate for Latinos, occupational health experts say, is that many of them are willing to take the most dangerous jobs.

They have already risked their lives to get here. They are desperate and will take anything – street corner day labor being one example, but any dirty or dangerous job nobody else wants,” said Rosemary Sokas, chair of the Human Science Department at Georgetown University School of Nursing and Health Studies.

Jennifer Gollan can be reached at jgollan@revealnews.org. Follow her on Twitter: @jennifergollan.

Jennifer Gollan

Jennifer Gollan is a reporter for Reveal, covering labor and corporate accountability.

An Emmy Award winner, Gollan has reported on topics ranging from oil companies that dodge accountability for workers’ deaths to lax manufacturing practices that contributed to deadly tire blowouts.

Gollan uncovered rampant exploitation and abuse of caregivers in the burgeoning elder care-home industry. The series, Caregivers and Takers, detailed how operators enriched themselves while paying workers about $2 an hour to work around the clock. The stories prompted a congressional hearing, plans for prosecutions and new state legislation. 

Gollan exposed how Navy shipbuilders received billions in public money even after their workers were killed or injured. In response to her reporting, Congress passed a new federal law, the Government Accountability Office produced a report and the Pentagon began scrutinizing the safety records of more defense contractors.

Gollan’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Associated Press, The Guardian U.S., Politico Magazine and PBS NewsHour.

Her honors include a national Emmy Award, a Hillman Prize for web journalism, two Sigma Delta Chi Awards, a National Headliner Award, a Gracie Award and two Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing Awards. She has been a finalist for an ONA Online Journalism Award, an IRE Award and two Gerald Loeb Awards. Gollan is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.