When a typical workday for a small business turns from normal to tragic, having the right support system both emotionally and financially can bring peace of mind.
Here’s how PG Cutting Services survived a horrifying accident in January with support from the Laborers’ International Union of North America.
A crew of seven were busy cutting slab on Interstate 10 in Los Angeles 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 PG Cutting Services Safety Manager and foreman Angel Perez, 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 are 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 sub-contractor 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 joined the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA). Health benefits, business development and safety training were 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 sent flowers and cards to the employees hurt in the incident and their families on the same day it found out.
PG Cutting Services was 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. 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 said. “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.
Both men injured in the incident would 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 its 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 said. “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. “The incident stress team really did what their title says, they kept us from being traumatized,” Garcia said.
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 first-hand, but still gets emotional when talking about it.
LIUNA has helped in other ways, too. In addition to helping 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 meets with companies about jobs, he gets asked the same question a lot: “Are you union? Are you union? To be able to say ‘yes,’ takes us to the next level,” he said.
And in terms of safety, along with reactive programs like the Critical Incident Stress Management program, LIUNA also offers preventative resources to keep job sites safe, protect 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 said.
Garcia has seen first-hand 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.
“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 said.