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Member Spotlight: Isael Mejia (Ironworkers)

Jeremy Sprinkle
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Member Spotlight is a recurring blog post series intended to highlight and connect the dots between the programs and priorities of the NC State AFL-CIO and the leaders and activist members of our affiliates who make it all possible.

My name is Isael Mejia, and I am a member of Ironworkers Local 848 living in Charlotte, NC. 

I work to advocate for victims of misclassification, a professionally dubious practice in which employers pretend the people who do the work for them aren’t really their employees. People are just trying to make their rent and pay their bills. Most victims of misclassification work dangerous jobs, and yet, as a state or city, we’re not demanding more accountability to ensure that people are working in safe conditions and getting paid what they deserve. 

Contractors on a lot of projects in our bigger cities don’t have strong safety and wage policies, and it’s astounding to see the low quality of work even on high-profile sites. Sometimes there are so many tiers of contractors that people don’t even know who they work for. These subcontracting and misclassification schemes not only fuel a “race to the bottom” in industry standards, they deprive municipalities of tax dollars and reward bad actors.

There are real people at the base of these structures. When there are accidents or deaths at a worksite, too often there are no real punishments. Each death is someone’s family member, someone’s child. Construction work can be risky, so there are rules and laws that protect workers. However, without proper enforcement and oversight–either by regulators or a union like mine–no one is looking out for those most at risk. Companies push workers to work faster and harder, putting profits over people. When you’re trying to make a living, it can be easy to ignore safety protocols to satisfy your employer, but any one incident can change your life. 

I want people–especially in the construction industry–to know that we don’t have to settle for dangerous and exploitative working conditions. We are experiencing a big change in how people view work. It’s powerful to see more people want to have a voice in their chosen career by forming and joining unions. I want to shout out the Starbucks baristas, the Amazon workers, the nurses in Asheville, the linemen in Monroe, and other workers all across North Carolina standing together to demand better. It’s about more than just the money. It’s about our well-being, our safety, and the quality of our work.