When I lost my hands making flatscreens I can’t afford, nobody would help me
On February 11, 2011, I lost both my hands.
I was working an overnight shift at my job in Reynosa, Mexico, where I was cutting metal for parts used in assembling flatscreen televisions. I was working in my usual area, and the boss was pressuring us.
“I want you to work faster, because we need the material urgently,” he said.
I was moved to Machine 19, which can rip and cut metal and takes two hands to operate. It is heavy, weighing at least one ton, maybe two, and no one liked to work on it because it was too difficult. They always seemed to assign it to me.
I started work at 11pm. Around 2 or 2:30am, I was positioning metal inside Machine 19. My hands were actually inside the machine, because I had to push the metal in until it clicked into place.
That’s when the machine fell on top of them.
I screamed. Everyone around me was crying and yelling. They stopped the assembly line on the female side of the room, but the men were told to keep working.
Meanwhile, I was stuck. No one could lift the machine off my hands. They remained trapped for 10 minutes, crushed under the machine.
Finally, a few fellow employees created a makeshift jack to lift the machine up just enough for me to pull my hands out. I wasn’t bleeding very much, because the machine actually sealed the ends of my arms and forged them to the piece of metal. They took me to the hospital with the piece attached to my hands. The doctors were surprised when I showed up like that. I remember saying, ‘Take the piece off. Take it off.’ But they didn’t want to.”
My hands were flattened like tortillas, mangled, and they both had to be amputated. I lost my right hand up to my wrist and my left a little higher. I didn’t know how I’d ever work again.
Immediately, I started to worry about my children. I have six children at home, who were between the ages of 9 and 17 during the accident, and I am both mother and father to them. How would I take care of them now?
Working six days a week, I made 5,200 pesos a month ($400). Without my hands, I knew I wouldn’t even be able to make that much.
After five days in the hospital, I checked myself out. But I didn’t go home first. I went directly to the factory where I worked for HD Electronics. I asked to see the manager. He offered me 50,000 pesos ($3,800).
“I’ve lost both my hands,” I said. “How will my family survive on 50,000 pesos?”
“That’s our offer,” he said. “Stop making such a big scandal about it and take it.” I eventually got about $14,400 in settlement money under Mexican labor law, an amount equal to 75% of two years’ wages for each hand. But I knew I had to do better for my family. So I looked across the border, to Texas, where my former employer is based.
I found a lawyer with a nice office in a good part of town. I was sure he would help me. Instead, he said, “Go up to the international bridge and put a cup out and people will help you.”
I was devastated.
That’s when I decided to tell my story on television. That led me to Ed Krueger, a retired minister who vowed to find me the right lawyer. That lawyer was Scott Hendler at the law firm Hendler Lyons Flores, in Austin, Texas. Even though I could not pay, he helped me file a lawsuit against LG Electronics, which contracted with the factory where I worked. Finally, about 18 months after the accident, I had hope.
Then the judge in my case threw out the lawsuit on a technicality, saying LG had not been properly notified. I wasn’t even given a chance to respond.
It’s been four years since I lost my hands. I have trouble paying my mortgage, and I wonder: Was that first lawyer right? Will I end up on a bridge, holding a cup out in front of me?
I constantly wish that someone with a compassionate heart could help me get some prosthetic hands that are flexible, so I could actually do something. Right now, I can’t do much. I can do smaller things, and move some things around, but I can’t do anything for myself. I can’t even take a shower. My family is surviving on a small disability benefit from the government, the kindness of friends and because my oldest daughter is now working instead of pursuing her education.
I’ve worked in factories most of my life. I know I am not the first person to be injured. But more needs to be done to help the workers who are making the products that so many Americans buy. We don’t ask for even a tiny share of the billions these companies make. We are just asking for enough to take care of our families and, when we are hurt, to take care of ourselves, too.
I’m honored that I’ve been asked by Public Justice, a wonderful legal organization fighting on behalf of workers like me, to share my story. And I’m humbled that they’ve selected me to receive their Illuminating Injustice Award. That’s just what I hope to do: shine a light on the stories of workers, like me, so that the people who buy the products we make can understand a little about our lives, too.
I hope someone, somewhere, will hear or read my story and help prevent this from happening again. Because, while my hands are gone, the injustice for so many remains.
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