A CRITICAL RESPONSE
LIUNA helps small business recover in wake of traumatic highway accident courtesy of LECET Southwest
It was a typical Los Angeles night on January 21. A crew of seven guys were busy cutting slab on Interstate 10 with safety barriers set up between them and the gridlocked traffic. Just down the way, a driver was becoming impatient waiting behind the sea of cars. Suddenly, the driver saw an opening in the road at the spot of the construction site and decided to go for it, hoping to get around some of the traffic.
Barreling through the safety barriers, the driver recklessly drove over a small hill. On the other side of that hill stood Angel Perez, PG Cutting Services’ Safety Manager and Foreman, who was speaking with one of his crew members.
In a flash, the man he was talking to was gone. He had been run into head-on by the oncoming car, and flung from the spot where he was standing. The impact also hit one of the crew’s saws, which bumped another saw into a second employee.
A flood of emotions flowed through PG Cutting Services Vice President, Juan Garcia, on the way to the hospital: Would these guys and their families be Okay? How is this going to impact the emotional state of his entire team? How is Angel and the rest of his crew going to come out of seeing this happen right in front of them? Would his team ever feel comfortable again on highway projects—a segment of work that accounts for 50 to 60 percent of the company’s business?
PG Cutting Services is a family-owned, Downey-based company with 20 employees. It largely operates as a subcontractor for concrete cutting and coring jobs in the Los Angeles area. The company started in 2005 with just one truck and two saws. As it grew over the next 12 years, the company had never experienced a traumatic incident greater than someone smashing their thumb with a hammer.
Just a few weeks prior to this incident on the highway, PG Cutting Services had decided to join the Laborers’ Union (LIUNA)—health benefits, business development and safety training, the main motivating factors behind the decision. Now, just a few weeks in, that decision was being put to the test.
Garcia got in contact with LIUNA after the accident occurred. The union proceeded to send flowers and cards to the employees hurt in the incident, and to their families, on the same day they found out. PG Cutting Services was then put in touch with the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America, which has a Critical Incident Stress Management program. This program provides education, prevention and mitigation of the impact of a traumatic event on workers. To accomplish this, trained professionals share resources and guidance to help workers cope with their feelings and prepare to return to work. This program kicked in immediately for PG Cutting Services.
“Had we not been in the union, I honestly wouldn’t have known where to start and what to do after this incident,” Garcia says. “I’m sure in the process and the research, I would have found people that charged for all those services. It would have probably cost thousands of dollars for specialists to come out.”
As a LIUNA contractor, these services were free of charge.
Both men injured in the incident would go on to survive the traumatic event, though the man who was struck directly by the car is still in the process of rehabilitation. Workers’ compensation kicked in and PG Cutting Services began the process of helping their staff cope.
“It was really hard on the guys. I think any time anybody talks about it we still get a little choked up. You hear about all these illnesses and cancers, but when it hits someone in your family you really understand the impact and you become very educated very quickly. The same thing happened to us with this accident,” Garcia says. “We really thought the guys would be too scared to return to work on the highway and actually considered not taking any more highway work.”
That didn’t happen though, thanks to the Critical Incident Stress Management program.
“The Incident Stress team really did what their title says; they kept us from being traumatized,” Garcia says.
Some seven months removed from the incident, the PG Cutting Services team has continued to grow its business while they encourage and root for the employee who is rehabilitating. Perez has mentally recovered from seeing the accident firsthand, but still gets emotional when talking about it.
And LIUNA has come through for the company in more ways than this. On top of helping so much with the highway incident, PG Cutting Services has been able to reassure its employees with health benefits through the union. It also has allowed the company to increase its revenue by $300,000 to $400,000, according to Garcia. This is largely because the company now has a gateway to larger projects upward of $100,000, rather than its typical $15,000 to $30,000 projects in the past. When Garcia goes to meet with companies about jobs, he gets asked the same question a lot.
“Are you union? Are you union? Being able to say yes takes us to the next level,” he says.
And in terms of safety, the union hasn’t only been able to offer reactive programs like the Critical Incident Stress Management program, but preventative resources (to keep their job sites safe, protect their workers and keep them as an employer in compliance with regulations) as well.
“We now have pamphlets and brochures for around the office, and we are saving a lot of money on printing and having to make up our own safety documents. It’s awesome,” Perez says.
Garcia has seen firsthand in a short time how PG Cutting Services has been able to take its business to the next level, and also keep his employees safe and secure through the union. He has this to say to any company who is thinking about doing the same.
“If someone is considering the union, really do the research and see and realize all the perks and benefits that come with it, because it’s not an expense, it’s an investment—that’s really the way we looked at it,” he says.