Essential Workers In Brownsville Worry About Health, While OSHA Lets Employers Set Own Protections

Many workers only recently began receiving masks, and it’s not always mandatory to wear them.

By Reynaldo Leaños Jr.May 11, 2020 11:56 am, , ,

From Texas Public Radio:

The sun has not yet punched through the darkness when Alex Chavez leaves his house.

It’s 5:20 on a Wednesday morning. Dressed in a uniform shirt, Alex carries his hard hat and lunch box to the car — ready for another day of work at the Port of Brownsville. His wife is dropping him off today, and they make a quick pit stop for breakfast tacos.

“It’s not like before, you come to work and you’re going to have a good day,” Alex said, describing the anxiety he feels on the drive. “It’s different this time, because of this COVID-19. You still gotta be cautious when you’re talking to people, how close you get to somebody, what you touch.”

Twenty minutes later, he arrives at a shipyard at Keppel AmFELS, which builds ships.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Texas continues to rise, and the state is continuing to open up. This has some workers across the state worried. But essential workers like Alex have been on the job for weeks now. He and other employees at the shipyard have been concerned about their workplace conditions and wonder what the further opening of the state means for them.

One of the first things Alex said he does when he gets to work is wait in line before clocking into work.

“So, you go and you see some tables that are maybe 60 yards away where they check your temperature,” said Alex.

Workers wait in the pre-dawn haze to get their temperature checked, then once inside it’s time for work.

“Me, I have a helper and we get our tools ready. We connect the wires, we connect everything. The torch, everything we need, the extension cords,” said Alex describing some of the tools he works with. “The whole day we’re working together side-by-side.”

Alex said he works alongside other colleagues and that they’re building two ships. He said it’s been hard to practice social distancing while on the job.

He said the two ships they’re currently working on are container ships that will be shipped to Hawaii.

Alex said it’s hard work and the job became even more difficult in mid-April, when workers received a company memo stating that someone at their worksite tested positive for COVID-19.

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