Kansas City labor leaders and lawmakers want fixes after worker death at former AT&T building
Jose Rodolfo Garcia fell 14 stories down an elevator shaft to his death on July 18. An OSHA investigation is underway, but city officials and local labor leaders say there is more work to be done.
Kansas City officials and labor advocates demanded solutions Thursday that would strengthen worksite safety after the death of a worker at the former AT&T building downtown.
Jose Rodolfo Garcia, an immigrant who lacked permanent legal status and was employed by the temp agency Infinity Resources Enterprise, fell 14 stories down an elevator shaft to his death on July 18.
Under a contract with New Horizons, a Kansas City, Missouri, organization, Garcia traveled from Indiana to perform asbestos abatement work at 500 E. 8th St. The Kansas City Star reports the old office building is being converted into apartments.
At a press conference Thursday morning outside the site, Kansas City’s 1st District Council member Kevin O’Neill said stronger enforcement of a 2021 wage-theft ordinance will put city safety workers on job sites like this one as soon as next month.
“They will check what people are doing, safety protocols they're following, who they're working for,” O’Neill said. “All the things that people use, construction companies use, to cheat the city out of money.”
There were 108 workplace fatalities last year in the state, according to the Missouri Department of Labor. So far this year, there have been 54 reported deaths, not including Garcia’s.
O’Neill was joined outside the building by several local legislators, labor leaders and other workers. Mayor Quinton Lucas promised the crowd of about 50 people that he and O’Neill would “introduce (what some people call) crazy ordinances now and then” to ensure safer workplaces and fair wages.
Fair Contracting Alliance executive director and Jackson County Legislator Manny Abarca said the incident shows the need for local governments to consider a worker’s bill of rights.
“There need to be triggers set in place to protect workers on construction sites and work sites across the city and the county, to make sure that people come home at night,” Abarca said. “A worker's bill of rights is just the start.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is already investigating the incident, New Horizons, Infinity Resource Enterprise, and the building’s owner, The Bernstein Companies. According to the Kansas City Star, the employer alerted OSHA of Garcia’s death within the required eight hours.
OSHA now has six months to finalize any citations or fines.
Sal Valadez, the representative for diversity, outreach, and marketing for Missouri Kansas Laborers' District Council, said he’s heard concerns from workers on the site about a lack of safety training — especially concerning to Valadez because workers are clearing asbestos. He called for additional investigations by the city, local and federal prosecutors and the U.S. Department of Labor.
“Our community is asking, ‘When enough is enough?’ Do more workers have to be exploited or even die before action is taken?” Valadez said. “We must protect workers in our community. We do deserve answers.”