NASHVILLE, TENN. — On Monday, Sergio Gutiérrez, a 30-year-old Guatemalan immigrant, was electrocuted to death while working on a construction site in downtown Nashville. Two other workers were also injured in the accident.
The news was first reported by Nashville Noticias and has now been confirmed to Payday Report by the Davidson County Medical Examiner. On Thursday, Tennessee OSHA (TOSHA) is investigating the death, according to Chris Cannon, the communications director for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Gutiérrez’s death underscores growing anger among workplace safety advocates in Nashville, who decry substandard safety conditions in one of America’s fastest growing cities. This latest construction worker fatality follows a report released earlier this month by the Partnership for Working Families, Workers Defense Project, and University of Illinois at Chicago Professor Nik Theodore.
Nashville’s population has grown by 11.6 percent between 2010 and 2016, according to U.S. Census population estimates. That growth has set off a construction boom in the Nashville area. And in a rush to build, workplace safety advocates say that far too many workers are getting hurt.
“There is such demand to build properties that workers are facing constant pressure to work quickly,” says Jackie Cornejo, a researcher with the Partnership for Working Families.
“Build a Better South: Construction Working Conditions in the U.S. South” surveyed more than 1,400 construction workers in Nashville and five other Southern cities. They found widespread safety violations, workplace injuries, wage theft, and other rights violations across the region.
Of the cities surveyed—Nashville, Atlanta, Charlotte, Miami, Houston, and Dallas—researchers found that Nashville was the most dangerous city for construction workers.
The report also found that the average wage for Nashville construction workers is a mere $14 an hour. Twenty-four percent of construction workers surveyed said that they had obtained a job through a temp agency in the last year.
According to the report, 24 percent of workers surveyed said that they had been injured during their construction careers, with 10 percent of workers saying they had been injured in the last year. Most shocking, among those hurt on the job in the past year only 19 percent reported having their medical bills covered by their employer or some form of workers compensation.
Nashville area construction union leaders say that the death of Sergio Gutiérrez shows that more action is needed to fix safety issues.
“This has not been an uncommon problem since the construction boom has taken off here in Nashville,” says SMART Local 177 Marketing Representative Steve Goolsby. “His death comes to show that the report and its showing that the safety issues in Nashville are for real.”
Workplace safety advocates in Nashville say they hope that the death of Gutiérrez may lead to a larger conversation about the city’s safety problem.
“Workers’ Dignity wants answers,” says Neptali Perez, an organizer with Workers’ Dignity. “ And we will organize for justice for this young man’s family and all construction workers risking their lives building Nashville’s skyline.”
Worker advocates say they are continuing to investigate the death of Gutiérrez and are asking workers with information on his death or employers to contact Nashville based worker center Workers’ Dignity at (615) 601-2820 to speak to someone in Spanish and (615) 669-5351 to speak to someone in English.
The group says the death of Gutiérrez should serve as a wake up call for regulators, developers, and government officials.
“How many more Latino workers have to die before conditions change? Where is OSHA? This is yet another example of dangerous conditions and labor abuses we need to address and change now,” says Perez. “Outrageously high rates of deaths and injuries will continue until we as a community hold developers accountable.”
Mike Elk is a member of the Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild and is the senior labor reporter at Payday Report. He previously served as senior labor reporter at POLITICO and has written for the New York Times. He also writes for The Guardian.