NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Metro councilmembers, advocacy groups, and the family of a teen killed on the job last summer presented a bill Tuesday aimed at increasing accountability and oversight of construction projects.
In June 2020, 16-year-old Gustavo Ramirez died when he fell from scaffolding while building the La Quinta Inn in Downtown Nashville.
“This is the day my baby brother, Gustavo Enrique Ramirez, or Kike, as we affectionately call him, was born,” his sister, Jennifer Enamorado, said at a press conference Tuesday, March 2, the day he would have turned 17.
“This year, we will celebrate his birthday at a cemetery instead of a dining room table,” Enamorado said, “And though we are torn and broken, it is due to this pain that we are ever so determined to prevent this from happening to another family.”
The ‘Get It Right’ bill would amend Title 4 of Metro Code to allow more oversight of construction companies and contracts as well as require more accountability from contractors and sub-contractors.
“We have to change how we allow people to come into this city, make millions of dollars, oppress and displace our people and take advantage of our lax laws and systems,” Tequila Johnson, the executive director of The Equity Alliance exclaimed in the press conference.
It’s change organizations have been working on for years. In 2019 alone, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 59 construction and extraction related deaths in Tennessee.
“What we hear over and over again is that there is complete lack of protections for workers on the site,” said Cecilia Prado, the co-director of Worker’s Dignity, “Very few workers receive the appropriate training that they need in the language that they speak for the machinery that they are operating.”
These advocacy groups say big developers and contractors hold too much power over those who need the work, often minorities or immigrants.
“I think they are being taken advantage of because of the economic need they are experiencing, the lack of English language proficiency, not knowing the language, not knowing exactly what their rights [are],” said Prado, “That is systemic racism.”
Mayor John Cooper’s office told News 2 in statement:
“Our growing city depends on construction workers and they deserve safe working conditions. Mayor Cooper is appreciative of efforts to afford proper protections, and his staff has met previously with proponents of the legislation to work through various legal issues. Further meetings are scheduled, and we look forward to the Council’s deliberations when the bill is introduced.”
A Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA) spokesperson also tells News 2, “The Nashville field office has more staff than any other Tennessee OSHA office in the state. Training is a critical component to worker safety. TOSHA will work with any employer to create a safer work environment, but the law states, it’s an employer’s duty to protect its workers from harm.”
Stand Up Nashville tells News 2 that they are still working on a final draft of the bill and plan to introduce it by the end of the week.