Boxer & Gerson LLP’s Maria Sager has long incorporated an internationalist element into her practice. Her fluency in Spanish has assisted her in establishing relationships and making presentations to various Latin American consulates in San Francisco, where she serves as an information resource explaining the complex legal issues surrounding workers’ compensation law in the United States-particularly as it affects immigrants.
In early March, Sager visited Cuba for eight days as a delegate of the National Lawyers Guild. Her purpose was two-fold: to participate in a panel discussion at a conference on occupational health and workers’ compensation, and to garner an up-close look at both the country and its laws and policies regarding workplace injuries.
Sager emphasized five key encounters that provided her with a deeper understanding of Cuba and its approach to workplace injuries and employee well-being.
First, she noted that the island nation of some 11 million people has a well-established centralized union system in the Workers Central Union of Cuba. Sager met with many agricultural, educational, and nutritional union members during her stay. It became clear in her discussions with them, she says, that although most Cubans continue to hope for lifting of the U.S. trade embargo, the country’s national sovereignty is still a primary value.
Second was a meeting with two-college educated workers, one a chemist at a rum factory, the other a business owner of a crochet store, both of whom felt they would likely be peasants with limited literacy were it not for the free education provided to all Cubans since the 1950s revolution.
Third was a visit to the rum factory where the chemist worked, and where Sager noted the abundance of workplace monitoring and safety equipment, and various protocols designed to emphasize injury prevention. Injured Cuban workers are paid 80% of their salary if they are unable to work while recuperating at home. They are then offered their jobs back if capable of performing them, or modified activity if their injury prevents them from assuming their former duties.
The fourth highlight was Sager’s attendance at a two-day conference-within-the-conference, this one the 9th International Meeting of Labor and Trade Union Lawyers at a Havana hotel, where some 300 attorneys from Cuba, South America, Central America, Canada and the U.S.A., among others, gathered to discuss a wide array of workplace topics. Sager made a presentation on California Workers’ Compensation Law, during which she proudly noted Boxer & Gerson’s own unionized workforce.
Finally, Sager and her Lawyers Guild colleagues visited a Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), where they were met by some 50 members of the nationalized group and treated to a song-and-dance performance by about 15 young children. “It was clear they had spent hours if not days preparing,” Sager said. “It was very special.”
Upon returning to the United States to where her own parents had immigrated Sager remarked, “As the Cubans I met are obviously proud of their country, I too am proud of mine-the United States of America. Although I have always felt a deep love for my country, it took me going to Cuba to ‘feel it in my soul.’ Thank you Cuba, for allowing me to reach this level of appreciation for where I live.”