America Must Protect Workers at All Costs
As we prepare to celebrate Labor Day, I want to share my story of working for two very different employers in the construction industry.
There are companies that recognize what their employees bring to the workplace — companies that understand the value that an honest, respectable worker and his or her skills, knowledge and attributes bring to the workplace.
However, there are companies that do the opposite — companies that do not care about their employees and fail to create a healthy, safe culture within the workplace. My former employer, Oracle Elevator, was this kind of company.
Oracle Elevator recruited me in September 2018 to service, maintain and repair elevators and escalators. They brought me — and just a few months later, my wife and two sons — to Miami, Florida, from our home in Puerto Rico. I worked to keep elevators, escalators and moving walkways running for Oracle Elevator for nearly three years. Proud to provide for myself and my family, I was eager to learn more and do more. I gave my all to a company that, at the time, I thought cared about my safety and well-being.
When in 2019 and 2020 I brought life-threatening safety issues at Miami International Airport to the attention of my supervisor, I faced a demoralizing truth: My employer didn’t care about me. Worse yet, my employer didn’t care about the safety of the men, women and children who ride elevators, escalators and other forms of moving conveyances every day.
I was suspended from work by Oracle Elevator for months. Instead of thanking me for doing the right thing, I was shamed for being the whistleblower who reported on the disabled safety devices on Oracle-maintained units in Miami International Airport.
This was the worst time of my life, and the situation led to pain and angst in my family’s home. I asked myself many times if doing the right thing — “blowing the whistle” on these safety issues — had been worth it.
Abandoned by my employer, my suspension triggered substantial suffering. Then, the International Union of Elevator Constructors came to my rescue, arguing that I should have been commended rather than suspended for my actions. The union gave me the support I needed, including legal aid.
Ultimately, an agreement approved by a National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge required Oracle Elevator to make me whole. The settlement agreement required Oracle to offer me full and unconditional reinstatement to my position at Oracle Elevator. Any record of my suspension would be removed from Oracle’s records, and Oracle would be forbidden to use my suspension against me in any way.
Oracle Elevator even paid me back and front pay. My name had finally been cleared.
I opted not to return to Oracle Elevator and began looking for opportunities elsewhere. I sought out an employer that would have my back — an employer that would prioritize the safety of its workers, as well as the riding public.
Today, I work for a company that cares about me. My current employer would never retaliate against an employee for reporting valid safety concerns. The company, just like the union, believes that safety must always come first and that whistleblowers should be commended, not suspended.
During our Labor Day celebrations with family and friends, I hope Americans will take a moment to pay tribute to workers — the men and women who keep our great nation running — and commit to protecting them at all costs.
Luis Colon is employed by Miami-based Dade Elevator Testing Inc. and is a member of the International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 74 (Tampa).
Learn more about elevator and escalator safety at Miami International Airport here: https://miaelevatorsafety.com. Follow @DemandSTEEP on Twitter for news and updates related to worker safety and the safety of the riding public.