UndocuBus Riders lead by example

If you look closely at Carlos Mendoza’s wrists, you can’t help but notice the scars that cover them, straight up through his arms. The 46-year-old father of three fell from a second-story roof in 2006, and when he arrived in the emergency room, he was told both his hands might have to be amputated.

After an initial emergency surgery saved his hands, the hospital learned he was uninsured. When administrators asked to call his boss to see about covering the costs of additional surgeries, the company Mendoza worked for told the hospital they had never heard of him. After several phone calls, the boss told administrators that Mendoza was a contractor, and that although they would donate $500 for the medical care, his company wasn’t legally bound to help him. In total, Mendoza’s bills added up to about $40,000—and his hands’ limited mobility meant that it was unlikely that he would ever return to work.

Mendoza, of course, was not a contractor, but a construction worker earning just $13 an hour to build and rebuild homes in Jackson County, North Carolina. But, because he’s undocumented, Mendoza feared he had little recourse—until he heard about the Worker’s Center in the town of Marion. Mendoza soon learned about his rights as a worker, and for the next three-and-a-half years, he fought his former employer to pay the medical costs associated with his fall on the job. Because he learned from the bottom up until he won his case, he became an asset to the Worker’s Center, and now works there, making sure that all workers in the local community know what their rights are—regardless of their immigration status.

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