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NYC Grapples with Safety and Privacy for Undocumented Workers

Whether people wish to acknowledge it or not, immigrant workers play a tremendous role in building and maintaining America's major cities - especially New York. The Pew Research Center has estimated that 15 to 33 percent of New York's construction workforce is undocumented immigrants.

In a political climate that is increasingly hostile toward immigrants, some of those undocumented workers and their advocates are concerned about a newly-passed construction law. In a recent forum, the Department of Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler tried to put them at ease.

Balancing safety with privacy

Last September, the city passed a bill that requires all construction workers to complete at least 40 hours of safety training by 2020. Despite disagreement about the bill's effectiveness, its passage has required the Department to finalize details for its implementation.

Some question how the city will keep track of individual workers' hours while protecting their personal information, including immigration status. Understandably, many workers are worried about consequences if their undocumented status is made known.

"How can you ensure privacy and at the same time get the department the information it needs to act on enforcing the law with the goal of safety-not the goal of turning people in?" asked Chandler. While details are still being worked out, he did say that the city will not retain any identifying information about individual workers.

Undocumented workers: Take steps to protect your rights

It is very important for immigrant workers, particularly those who are undocumented, to be vigilant about their rights in the workplace. We recommend speaking with an attorney with experience assisting immigrant workers if you have questions about how New York's construction laws could affect you.

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