| Francis Scott Key Bridge after the Dali cargo ship crashed into it Photo Wikimedia commons | MR Online Francis Scott Key Bridge after the Dali cargo ship crashed into it. (Photo: Wikimedia commons)

Baltimore bridge collapse: How exploitation caved in on itself and led to worker deaths

On Tuesday night, March 26, the United States Coast Guard announced that it had stopped its search for six workers who went missing when a massive Maersk cargo ship collided with the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore. In addition to the six workers that have not been found, two bodies were found in a submerged pickup truck on Wednesday morning, presumed victims of the bridge collapse.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed into the Baltimore Harbor in the early hours of Tuesday morning after being struck by a 985-foot-long cargo vessel.

Shipping company punishes whistleblowers

As detailed in a report by The Lever, Danish shipping company Maersk, which chartered the ship, had been sanctioned by the U.S. Labor Department eight months prior to the crash for retaliating against a worker who had reported unsafe working conditions aboard a Maersk-operated vessel—which revealed that the shipping company had a policy of forcing employees to first report safety concerns to the company rather than relevant authorities such as the Coast Guard.

The Maersk whistleblower was first disciplined, then fired after reporting leaks, unpermitted alcohol consumption onboard the vessel, inoperable lifeboats, faulty emergency fire suppression equipment, and other concerns to the federal government.

Maersk is one of the largest shipping companies in the world, raking in USD 51 billion in revenue in 2023, and has spent this money lobbying federal regulators and suing trade unions.

Video footage shows the ship suffering several power outages before crashing.

Migrants pay the price

Before colliding with the bridge, the vessel, known as the Dali, sent out a distress signal, providing enough time for traffic to be stopped at both ends of the bridge. However, a road repair crew remained on the bridge and was not evacuated, resulting in the probable deaths of the six construction workers.

The six men worked for construction company Brawner Builders. Jesus Campos, an employee with the company, spoke to the Baltimore Banner about his fellow workers, who he said were immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. “We’re low-income families,” he said.

Our relatives are waiting for our help back in our home countries.

The worker deaths come at a time when politicians in both major parties are ramping up racist rhetoric against migrants, who are coming into the country to flee economic and political instability—instability often caused by U.S. government action.

Biden himself, during his recent State of the Union address, went on an anti-migrant rant, lamenting the “thousands of people being killed by illegals,” despite the fact that undocumented immigrants are less likely to engage in violent crime than U.S. residents.

Also during his State of the Union address, Biden promoted a bipartisan bill to restrict immigration at the border, which would expand the authority of the president to crack down on migrants. “It would also give me as President new emergency authority to temporarily shut down the border when the number of migrants at the border is overwhelming,” he said.

At many turns during his presidency, Biden has promoted draconian anti-immigration laws that do not differ significantly from his predecessor, Trump’s policies. These include impossible demands placed on asylum seekers, expanding Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall, maintaining brutal sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela, and violently deporting Haitian refugees.

Nonetheless, it is the migrant working class that often works the most dangerous and essential jobs—as their legal vulnerability makes them uniquely susceptible to workplace deaths and labor exploitation. Child labor violations are experiencing a huge resurgence as unaccompanied migrant children are exploited by their employers, often resulting in horrific deaths on the job.

When natural or man-made disasters hit, it is migrants who are on the frontlines, still working to support themselves and their families. Such is reflected in a video that went viral during the deadly floods in New York City in 2021, in which a delivery worker, most of whom are immigrants in the city, wades through knee-deep floodwaters to deliver a meal to someone.

Collapse draws attention to massive infrastructural failures

Although engineers report that no bridge is designed to withstand a collision with such a massive ship, the bridge’s collapse has drawn attention to the U.S.’s aging and underfunded infrastructure.

According to the Infrastructure Report Card, released by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) every four years, 7.5% (46,154) of the nation’s bridges are in “poor” condition. 178 million trips are taken across such bridges each day. Estimates indicated that the U.S. needs to increase spending on bridge rehabilitation from USD 14.4 billion annually to USD 22.7 billion annually in order to improve the condition of bridges nationwide.

The U.S. government just approved a funding package of nearly USD 4 billion to Israel, a state carrying out genocide in Gaza. The United States military budget only continues to grow, ballooning to USD 886 billion in 2024.

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