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Kansas City labor leaders and lawmakers want fixes after worker death at former AT&T building

Manny Abarca, left, Mayor Quinton Lucas, middle, and councilman Kevin O'Neil, right, at a press confrence discussing the death of Jose Rodolfo Garcia on July 8 at the former At&T building.
Noah Taborda
KCUR 89.3
City officials and labor leaders say they’re weighing next steps and looking for new ways to strengthen worksite safety while federal officials look into the July death of Jose Rodolfo Garcia.

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.

Construction fencing surrounds the former AT&T building at 500 E. 8th St. that is being renovated into apartments.
Noah Taborda
KCUR 89.3
Construction fencing surrounds the former AT&T building at 500 E. 8th St. that is being renovated into apartments.

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.”

As KCUR's health reporter, I cover the Kansas City metro in a way that reflects our expanding understanding of what health means and the ways it touches different communities and different areas in distinct ways. I will provide a platform to amplify ideas and issues often underrepresented in the media and marginalized people and communities in an authentic and honest way that goes beyond the surface of the issues. I will endeavor to find and include in my work local experts and organizations that have their ears to the ground and a beat on the health needs of the community. Reach me at noahtaborda@kcur.org.
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