Posts Tagged ‘Immigrant Workers’
Thursday, October 11th, 2012
As two critical bills waited quietly on California Governor Jerry Brown’s desk last weekend, immigrants across the state held their breath, hoping that the progressive legislation could affect the national immirgation debate. By Sunday night, the anticipation gave way to disillusionment with two stunning vetoes.
The highly anticipated Domestic Workers Bill of Rights would have enacted major protections for tens of thousands of housekeepers, nannies and other caregivers and closed loopholes ignored by federal labor law. It would have extended California’s policies for overtime pay and workers’ compensation, and helped ease in-house workers’ arduous, sometimes-abusive work routines by providing for a set amount of sleep and the ability to cook one’s own food.
Above all, the Bill of Rights would place California alongside New York (where similar legislation has already passed) in formally recognizing the rights and unique needs of this burgeoning, cross-cutting sector. The bill won support from a huge array of groups, from labor unions to celebrities, precisely because of the myriad social issues that domestic work braids together: the changing demographics of the workforce, the challenges of securing affordable childcare or elder care for families, and the struggles of immigrant workers, particularly women of color, in a largely unregulated industry.
But Brown scrapped the bill (sadly following an earlier veto by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger) and aligned himself with the business lobby, led by the California Chamber of Commerce, which had complained that the provisions of the bill would be unworkable and overly burdensome for employers.
The California Domestic Workers Coalition will continue its campaign (with plans to deploy sponge bombs to help Brown “clean up his act”) by building on its growing network of allies, including women’s rights, labor and faith groups. Looking ahead, Katie Joaquin, a Filipino community activist with the California Domestic Workers Coalition, tells Working In These Times, “We’re going to continue to build upon those relationships. And the first step is to hold Governor Brown accountable for what we view as a blatant lack of leadership.”
Inspired by the New York example, Joaquin says, the California bill is part of a movement for what the National Domestic Workers Alliance calls “an alternative vision of care,” which is based on sustainable working conditions and better training in the care industries, in order to meet the growing need for caregivers as the population ages. “We need to have a vision for training and caring for caregivers at the same time that we’re making care accessible for families,” Joaquin says.
Immigration policy complicates the labor struggle. Brown delivered a one-two punch to California’s migrant communities by also vetoing the Trust Act, which would have restrained the power of local police to route arrestees suspected of immigration violations into the custody of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). That means that the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, including domestic caregivers and other low-wage workers, will continue.
Immigrant rights activists had pushed the Trust Act to counter the Obama administration’s enforcement regime, particularly the Secure Communities program, which encourages federal and local police to collaborate to nab undocumented immigrants. The program mirrors Arizona’s infamous SB1070 law and other state initiatives that threaten to expand racial profiling of Latinos and feed the federal deportation machine (which hasn’t significantly eased up in spite of the administration’s slippery claims of refraining from deportating “low priority” cases, such as students with clean records).
Still, aside from the painful vetoes, Brown managed to approve more modest pro-immigrant measures, such as allowing driver’s licenses for some undocumented immigrants (a move apparently aimed at the youth who would qualify for temporary immigration relief and work permits under the White House’s new “deferred action” policy).
The problem is that making it easier for undocumented workers to drive isn’t going to prevent them from being pulled over and ensnared in deportation proceedings. A young man named Juan Santiago told the Associated Press:
he was pleased he would be able to get from his home in Madera to his college classes 30 miles away once his work permit application is approved. But he said the measure does little for his mother, who brought him across the Arizona desert into the U.S. when he was 11.
“It was a happy and a sad day for us,” Santiago said. “The fact that the governor vetoed the TRUST Act, it means there’s nothing to protect the rest of my family members.”
The legislative changes that immigrants most need now are those that protect the whole neighborhood–at work, in school and at home. In an email to Working In These Times, Chris Newman, legal director of California-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), one of the leading advocates for the Trust Act, says:
Equality demands that all Californians have faith in law enforcement, and the vetoes send a message that whether it’s civil rights, labor rights, or public safety, Jerry Brown does not respect the interests of immigrant workers in California.
While the vetoes were a blow to the movement, passing pro-immigrant policies is not an end in itself. Even in New York, where a hard-fought Domestic Workers Bill of Rights is already on the books, workers have faced difficulty in using the law to directly challenge employers over workplace violations.
Building political savvy and leverage on the street level is critical, with or without supportive legislation. As NDLON activist Pablo Alvarado wrote on the group’s blog, the governor “can veto a bill but he cannot veto a movement.” Ultimately, it’s the community’s power, not the letter of the law, that defines justice.
This post originally appeared in Working In These Times on October 3, 2012. Reprinted with permission.
About the author: Michelle Chen work has appeared in AirAmerica, Extra!, Colorlines and Alternet, along with her self-published zine, cain. She is a regular contributor to In These Times’ workers’ rights blog, Working In These Times, and is a member of the In These Times Board of Editors. She also blogs at Colorlines.com. She can be reached at michellechen @ inthesetimes.com.
Thursday, February 23rd, 2012
Immigrant “carwasheros,” who often earn below minimum wage with no benefits, scored an historic victory this week by unionizing two Los Angeles car washes, Vermont Car Wash and Nava’s Car Wash. They were the first in the city limits to unionize. The workers are now members of the United Steelworkers, with the move likely gaining them significantly improved wages, protections and benefits while also scoring a symbolic and tactical win for organized labor as a whole.
Last summer, three car washes in Santa Monica recognized unions and then in October Bonus Car Wash in Santa Monica became the first in the country to sign a union contract, as Akito Yoshikane and Michelle Chen reported for Working In These Times.
The California car wash campaign begun in 2008 has been a major focus of the national labor movement, with AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka joining L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in person to cheer the achievement on Tuesday. The Carwash Organizing Campaign, affiliated with the United Steelworkers, has rallied much community support and called for boycotts of local car washes, formerly including Vermont, and also including ones with the names Celebrity, Hollywood, Five Star and Magic Wand.
In January, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris announced a settlement for more than $1 million among eight northern and southern California car wash owners that “underpaid workers, denied rest and meal breaks, and created false records of time worked,” according to a press release. The office had filed a lawsuit against the car washes in 2010. In December 2010, workers from Marina Car Wash who lost their jobs right before Christmas performed a play about their plight at a celebrity-heavy restaurant whose owners have family ties to the car wash owners.
In Chicago a campaign by some car wash workers and labor rights activists has been underway for close to a year, with organizers and workers in close contact with their L.A. counterparts. Workers at Little Village Car Wash gained citywide attention with a campaign supported by the group Arise Chicago to get back pay due a number of workers who had worked for years for little more than tips. Workers and supporters bearing squeegees took over the car wash in November.
Car wash workers are emblematic of a significant and stable or even growing sector of the labor economy – people who obviously work in a fixed location, for a given employer, but are often treated as independent contractors, frequently working only for tips with no job stability or benefits. Dish washers, night club dancers, graphic designers and IT professionals are among the diverse range of occupations wherein people often find themselves in similar situations. These workers have traditionally had difficulty unionizing, since they are treated as independent contractors and/or their economic and potentially immigration status make them vulnerable and afraid to anger the employer.
A study by the Community Labor Environmental Action Network (CLEAN) found that while California car washes brought in $872 million in revenue in 2002, workers often earned well below the state minimum wage of $8 an hour.
In addition to paying wages that are illegally low, Los Angeles carwash owners often deny their workers the most basic workplace rights and protections required by law.?Analysis of case files of the California Occupational Health and Safety Administration (Cal/OSHA) reveal numerous citations of carwash owners in Los Angeles.
Working at a carwash can be difficult and even dangerous, especially during the hot summer months when temperatures in Los Angeles approach 100 degrees.
Workers are frequently forced to work without safety equipment, training on how to deal with hazards and chemical exposures in their workplaces, clean drinking water, breaks for rest and meals, minimum wages, overtime pay, health insurance, or respect and dignity on the job.
A study by the University of Illinois at Chicago regarding working conditions at Chicago area car washes is also in the works.
The CLEAN campaign also points out that car washes can be serious local polluters, allowing chemicals to run off into storm sewers that often lead directly to rivers or in California the ocean, while also potentially exposing members of the public to toxics.
As Michelle Chen noted, the car wash bears important cultural symbolism, especially in Southern California:
The car wash is the quintessential symbol of American exuberance. Nothing speaks to our freewheeling consumer culture like our obsession with shampooing, waxing and pimping our rides for the world to see. But in the gleaming car capital of the world, Los Angeles, carwash workers are driving a movement to expose rampant abuses in one of the city’s dirtiest jobs.
A press release from Harris’s office about the lawsuit against car washes notes that:
The car washes required employees to report to work several hours in advance and be available, unpaid, until business picked up. When workers were paid, many received paychecks that could not be cashed because of insufficient company funds. Additionally, the car washes operated for years without licenses from the Labor Commissioner, which are required under California law.
The two-year contract signed by workers at Bonus Car Wash in Santa Monica addresses many of the problems with the industry, as Yokishane summarized:
Workers at Bonus Car Wash will see a 2-percent wage increase. In addition to health and safety measures, the contract prohibits the employer from firing workers without just cause or discharging those who voice safety hazard concerns. There is also a grievance and arbitration procedure to settle disputes.
On Tuesday, Mayor Villaraigosa was quoted saying:
What these contracts represent are a good paying job, a better standard of living, and a voice on the job for some of our City’s most exploited workers…In an industry rampant with wage theft and abusive conditions, these businesses have stepped up to do the right thing.
This blog originally appeared in Working in These Times on February 22, 2012. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist whose works has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her most recent book isRevolt on Goose Island. In 2011, she was awarded a Studs Terkel Community Media Award for her work. She can be reached email@example.com.
Wednesday, January 18th, 2012
While neighboring Arizona keeps its notorious anti-immigrant law on the books, New Mexico may be taking another path. State Sen. Steve Fischmann (D) is proposing a guest worker plan to let undocumented immigrants work legally in the state. If immigrants can prove they have lived in New Mexico for the past year and pass a background check, they could get a worker’s permit and legal status.
Fischmann told a local TV station that he is pushing the guest worker plan because current immigration policy is not working:
“The feds are failing us,” said Fischmann. “We make lawbreakers out of everybody with our current immigration policy whether you’re an employer or someone trying to get a job.”
Fischmann said about six percent of New Mexico’s workforce is undocumented, working mainly agricultural jobs.
“It really strives to keep immigrant families together,” said Fischmann. [...]
But the idea seems to be going nowhere fast.
“To try to set up a state guest worker program is doomed to failure,” said Rep. Dennis Kintigh, R-Roswell.
Kintigh said a guest worker program would be giving amnesty to thousands of immigrants who have broken federal laws.
The federal government would have to approve Fischmann’s plan, and before that could happen, the New Mexico legislature would have to pass the bill. The legislative agenda is set by the governor, and Gov. Susana Martinez (R) has not commented on the proposal except to say that she thinks immigration reform is a federal issue.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed into law a guest worker plan that allows undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements to have a state-issued permit to work in Utah. And California may consider its own version of the Utah law. Given the important role immigrants play in the U.S. economy and military, these state guest worker plans are helpful measures to let more people actively participate in the workforce.
This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on January 18, 2012. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Amanda Peterson Beadle is an editorial assistant at ThinkProgress.org. She received her B.A. in journalism and Spanish from the University of Alabama, where she was editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper The Crimson White and graduated with honors. Before joining ThinkProgress, she worked as a legislative aide in the Maryland House of Delegates. In college, she interned at the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire, the Press-Register (Mobile, Alabama), and the Ludington Daily News. She is from Birmingham, Alabama.
Thursday, January 12th, 2012
Eight California car washes agreed to an historic $1 million settlement with the state’s attorney general for routinely failing to pay minimum wage or overtime, creating false records of work hours and not paying money owed to employees who quit, according to Attorney General Kamala Harris.
Workers at these car washes were taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers who illegally denied them the pay and benefits they earned. I am pleased that the resolution of this case will allow workers to receive the pay they are owed.
At least $800,000 of the settlement will go to workers who were underpaid, according to court records. Other parts of the settlement will pay taxes and penalties. Click here for a copy of the settlement agreement.
Two of the of the car washes in the agreement are Bonus Car Wash in Santa Monica and Marina Car Washin Venice, where workers fought and won recognition with United Steelworkers (USW) Local 675 last year. Says Local 75?s Dave Campbell:
We are glad that the Attorney General is taking seriously the issue of wage theft among car wash workers. Workers have been waiting to be made whole for past violations for years.
The workers there and at other Southern California carwashes came together in the CLEAN Carwash Campaign to fight for their rights. The CLEAN Carwash Campaign is a coalition supported by the USW, the AFL-CIO and more than 100 community, faith and labor organizations in Los Angeles. For more information, click here.
More good news from the Clean Carwash Campaign: the owner of Navas Car Wash in Marina Del Ray, the successor company to BJ Car Wash, agreed to respect and sign the union contract agreed to by the previous owner and ratified in early November.
This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now blog on January 11, 2012. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. “When my collar was still blue, I carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. I’ve also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen me at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. I was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still have the shirts, lost the hair.”
Wednesday, December 7th, 2011
ThinkProgress has been reporting on the catastrophic economic consequences of Alabama’s harshest-in-the-nation immigration law. Undocumented workers are the backbone of Alabama’s agriculture industry, and their exodus has already created a labor shortage in the state. Farmers say crops are rotting in the field and they are in danger of losing their farms by next season.
GOP politicians have crowed that driving immigrants out of the state will reduce unemployment by letting native citizens fill those jobs. But they’ve quickly discovered that Americans are simply unwilling to do the back-breaking labor of harvesting crops.
To stave off the disastrous collapse of state agriculture, Alabama officials are seriously considering replacing immigrant workers with prison laborers who they could perhaps pay even less than immigrants. Earlier this year, the head of Alabama’s agriculture department floated this idea. Now, the department is actively promoting it to the state’s farmers:
Alabama agriculture officials are considering whether prisoners can fill a labor shortage the agency blames on the new state law against illegal immigration.
The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries is meeting with south Alabama farmers and businesses in Mobile on Tuesday. Deputy commissioner Brett Hall says the agenda includes a presentation on whether work-release inmates could help fill jobs once held by immigrants.
Georgia implemented a similar scheme to deal with its post-immigration-law exodus, but the program had mixed results, with many inmates walking off the job early. In fact, some in Georgia were amazed Alabama did not learn from their mistakes before implementing an immigration law that jeopardized agricultural and construction industries. “It was like, ‘Good Lord, you people can’t be helped. Have you all not been paying attention?’” said Bryan Tolar, president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council.
Replacing skilled workers with virtually free (and sometimes actually free) prison laborers has become a trend in Republican-led states. Under Gov. Scott Walker’s (R-WI) anti-collective bargaining law, at least one Wisconsin county replaced some union workers with prison labor. And Georgia is considering replacing firefighters with prisoners to save money.
This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on December 6, 2011. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Marie Diamond is a reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress.org. She hails from the great metropolis of Temple, TX. She holds a B.A. in political science from Yale and was a Yale Journalism Scholar. Before joining ThinkProgress, she worked at West Wing Writers, a speechwriting and communications firm. She has also interned for The American Prospect and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and has done development work in South Africa and Kazakhstan.