Why We Fight – Tomas’ Story

July 12, 2013

From 11pm to 7am, Tomás Garciá worked in the famous kitchen of a Back Bay Hotel, cleaning out grease traps, de-liming sinks, and washing the ovens that hours before were producing thirty-dollar steak dishes. As the city slept, Garciá cleaned and scrubbed, lifting buckets of cleaners, contorting to access hard to reach areas.

Last December, while washing down a steel surface, Garciá slipped on a slick section of the floor, landing hard on this right shoulder. After notifying his boss that he needed medical treatment, he learned that his hours had been reduced for speaking up and was later told “we have no work for a one armed man.”

“I had been working there for two years and 13 days. How is it possible that I was fired since I did my work well?” Garciá told lawyers and other MassCOSH supporters in June at Lawyers for Workplace Safety, a benefit for MassCOSH’s worker rights initiative. “It was when I contacted the MassCOSH Workers Center that they were able to connect me with a lawyer who helped me fix this situation.”

Jonny Arévalo, a MassCOSH Worker Center organizer investigated Tomas’s ‘situation’ and soon identified the problem that was keeping Tomas from obtaining workers’ comp benefits to address his injury: Tomas wasn’t employed by the hotel.

Instead, Tomas found himself in an increasingly common challenge, he was employed by a shadowy temp agency. This arrangement allowed the hotel and the agency to play off each other regarding who was responsible for covering Tomas’s Workers’ Compensation.

Guided by MassCOSH, Tomas visited the hospital to receive care for his still-injured shoulder and document that the injury was work-related. Tomas was also instructed to continue to arrive at work so that the companies could not claim he abandoned his position and was entitled to nothing. MassCOSH-generated documentation was then sent to Michael Kantrowitz of Kantrovitz and Kantrovitz to help Tomas claim the Workers’ Compensation he deserved.

“After MassCOSH referred Tomas, we filed a claim with the Department of Industrial Accidents (DIA),” said Kantrovitz, a member of MassCOSH’s Lawyers’ Committee. "The DIA awarded Tomas’ total disability benefits starting the day he was hurt. They also ordered the Insurer to pay for reasonable and related medical care, and specifically to pay for the MRI that was recommended by Tomas’ doctor.”

With his case still active, Tomas continues to work with MassCOSH and Kantrovitz and Kantrovitz to fight for his rights and medical care.

“Tomás will continue to collect total disability benefits until a judge says otherwise,” says Kantrovitz. “He will furthermore get the medical care he is entitled to by law. Without the help of MassCOSH, this may not have been possible."

The Lawyers for Workplace Safety benefit brought together workers and lawyers, like Garciá  and Kantrovitz, who share more than a legal case in common; they also share a desire to ensure that all workers can go to work, earn their pay in safe conditions, and obtain their right to workers compensation. Garciá  pursues this quest as a leader of MassCOSH’s Worker Center, which unites low wage, immigrant workers to organize for their rights. Kantrovitz is actively involved with MassCOSH’s lawyers’ committee, which brings together attorneys to address barriers to workers achieving their rights.

“I think the work that Michael [Kantrovitz] and MassCOSH did was very important in helping me with the entire process,” said Garciá . “Many workers would benefit from the assistance of lawyers that work closely with organizations like MassCOSH that help immigrant workers.”

For more information on our Workers Center or to volunteer, please email Jonny Arévalo at jonny.Arévalo@masscosh.org