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Posts Tagged ‘immigration’

Supreme Court Should Approve Policies that Will Provide Much-needed Relief to Immigrant Working Families

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016

Richard L. TrumkaWe applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to take up the DAPA and expanded DACA case, which will have profound consequences for our immigrant brothers and sisters who live and work every day under a cloud of fear, as well as for the state of racial and economic justice in our country. We are confident the court will reverse the decision of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and allow the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policies to go into effect, affording millions of people the opportunity to apply for work authorization and temporary protection from deportation. We encourage the Department of Homeland Security to take all steps necessary to ensure these much-needed policies can be implemented as soon as possible after the court issues its decision this summer.

At a time when working people feel increasingly disposable and deportable, when corporations are allowed to profit from the mass imprisonment of people of color, when our government is rounding up refugee families from their beds at night, and when we are confronting at so many levels the racial bias deeply entrenched in our laws and their enforcement, the outcome of this case will have a significant impact on the direction our nation takes moving forward.

At heart, the question the Supreme Court will consider is whether our immigration enforcement regime will be allowed to take modest steps to begin to protect and empower hardworking people, or whether it will continue to serve as a tool to exclude and oppress.

Much is at stake in this case, but working people do not need a court ruling to tell them what is just. In the face of criminalization, exploitation and base attempts to sow division, we will continue to work in every community in the country to build what we believe is the only true antidote: solidarity.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on January 19, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Richard Trumka is the president of AFL-CIO, the largest organization of labor unions in the country.  He is an outspoken advocate for social and economic justice.  Trumka heads the labor movement’s efforts to create an economy based broadly on shared prosperity and to hold government and employers accountable to working families.

Ship Builder Settles $5 Million Lawsuit After Forcing Indians To Work And Live in Awful Conditions

Friday, December 18th, 2015

EstherYuHsiLeeA ship building and repair company will pay $5 million to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) race and national origin discrimination lawsuit with 476 Indian guest workers who worked at the company’s facilities after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. While Indian workers lived in squalid containers “the size of a double-wide trailer,” non-Indian workers were not subjected to the same conditions.

According to the lawsuit, Signal International recruited Indian guest workers through the federal H-2B guest worker program to work at its facilities in Texas and Mississippi and forced them to pay to live in deplorable conditions. In its lawsuit, the EEOC alleged that Signal forced “the men to pay $1,050 a month to live in overcrowded, unsanitary, guarded camps. As many as 24 men were forced to live in containers the size of a double-wide trailer, while non-Indian workers were not required to live in these camps.”

H-2B visas are generally used for low-skilled or seasonal work, which are valid for ten months, with the chance to extend visa renewals up to three years. As part of the visa program, employees should be reimbursed for the consulate interview fee, visa fee, border crossing fee, and transportation costs associated with obtaining their H-2B visas. Employees aren’t always reimbursed for the H-2 visa process. They are also tied to the employers during their stay in the United States.”

“We are very pleased Signal has accepted responsibility for its wrongdoing and that these workers, who have waited 10 long years for justice, will now receive compensation and can move on with their lives,” Delner Franklin-Thomas, district director for EEOC’s Birmingham District, said in a statement. “In many cases, these men paid thousands of dollars to come to the United States, only to be subjected to inhumane conditions and exploitation after they arrived.”

An estimated 66,000 H-2B visas are distributed on an annual basis. But employers often us the H-2 visa programs to take advantage of legal guest workers. An Economic Policy Institute study found that temporary legal guest workers are as likely to be subjected to low wages as undocumented workers.

The $1.1 trillion omnibus funding bill passed Friday included a provision to dramatically increase the number of H-2B visas. The AFL-CIO and the International Labor Recruitment Working Group criticized the visa provision because it could potentially roll back “protections for low-wage workers and guest workers… while lowering the protections for workers,” Joleen Rivera, a legislative representative at the AFL-CIO, said.

Still, the 476 Indian guest workers are not the only exploited workers from hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Some undocumented immigrant laborers helping to rebuild the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina were threatened with deportation and were often unpaid for the work they did.

This blog was originally posted on ThinkProgress on December 18, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Esther Yu-Hsi Lee. Esther Yu-Hsi Lee is the Immigration Reporter for ThinkProgress. She received her B.A. in Psychology and Middle East and Islamic Studies and a M.A. in Psychology from New York University. A Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) beneficiary, Esther is passionate about immigration issues from all sides of the debate. She is also a White House Champion of Change recipient. Esther is originally from Los Angeles, CA.

Pizza-Making Strikers Win Small Slice of Justice in Milwaukee

Monday, August 5th, 2013

Roger BybeeThe 14-month-long strike at Palermo’s Pizza in Milwaukee produced a small slice of justice this week for the Mexican immigrant workers who have been fighting for higher wages, safer conditions and a union voice at the frozen-pizza maker.

Last Tuesday, Palermo’s finally agreed to comply with a finding by the National Labor Relations Board and re-hire eight workers with back pay, which will cost the pizza chain tens of thousands of dollars. The eight had been illegally fired for trying to unionize, the NLRB ruled.

Palermo’s has also agreed to post a notice announcing that the firm will no longer violate federal labor law. “This agreement confirms that Palermo’s used threats, intimidation, surveillance, discrimination, and retaliation to deny the freedom to choose a union voice,” says Raul de la Torre, an organizing committee member of the Palermo’s Workers Union. Fully 75 percent of the workers signed cards seeking union recognition prior to the strike, but Palermo’s management responded only with threats and other illegal tactics.

But Palermo’s decision to comply with the NLRB ruling does not reflect a softening of the intransigence that has driven about 125 workers, almost all immigrants from Mexico, out on strike for over a year. Palermo’s has refused for months to even engage in bargaining, said spokesperson Brian Rothgery of the United Steelworkers (USW) union, which has been assisting the Palermo’s strikers since they walked out on June 1, 2012.

Low pay, hazardous working conditions and arbitrary management decisions drove workers to form a union with the help of the immigrants-rights group Voces de la Frontera, which has been vocal and visible force in Wisconsin for the rights of immigrant workers.

Voces, the Palermo’s Workers Union and the USW are preparing to intensify their boycott of Palermo’s frozen pizzas at stores and institutions across the nation, said Rothgery. This escalation of the boycott will mean a focus on getting Palermo’s products removed from universities and on the Costco chain, which accounts for half of Palermo’s sales.

USW District 2 Director Mike Bolton called the settlement for the eight workers a positive development, but expressed exasperation with U.S. labor laws that allow a firm like Palermo’s to thwart the democratic choice of workers to form a union.

“It took much too long to get even this small bit of justice for these workers,” Bolton tells Working In These Times. “And unfortunately, they will be going back to jobs where union busters have created such an atmosphere of fear and intimidation that a democratic election is not possible.”

“The American system of labor laws has failed for most of the Palermo’s workers,” says Rothgery. “But that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop. The boycott is continuing, and we’ll keep fighting until there is justice for all the workers at Palermo’s.”

The workers and their allies will need to puncture the stone wall that has been Palermo’s response to the onslaught of community protests and legal challenges. Palermo’s refused to accept a letter from clergy and other community leaders following their 18-mile pilgrimage from Palermo’s plant to the palatial suburban home of Palermo’s co-owner Giacomo Falluci on June 1, 2013, the one-year anniversary of the strike.

Meanwhile, Palermo’s still faces various federal charges of both tolerating safety hazards and breaking labor-relations laws. Palermo’s is contesting seven “serious” charges filed May 7 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that its handling of nearly 30,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia—used in freezing food—was unsafe and posed a severe safety hazard. Palermo’s faces $38,500 in fines from OSHA.

The penalties reflect the threat posed by a potential accident. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that a one-minute accidental release of 1,000 pounds of ammonia would spread toxic fumes 1.2 miles in an urban area.  A release of the full 29,500 pounds could travelsix miles. The Milwaukee Brewers’ major-league baseball stadium, with a seating capacity of 42,200, is just 1.3 miles west of the Palermo’s plant.

OSHA also requested that the frozen-pizza company turn over uncensored records of worker injuries and other safety problems, after Palermo’s submitted information with key information redacted.

Unfair labor charges

Until finally conceding on the one NLRB complaint, Palermo’s had refused to comply with the NLRB order issued last November. Palermo’s management and its advisors—which include the Chicago-based anti-union Jackson Lewis law firm and the PR firm of prominent local Democrat Evan Zeppos–seemingly want to project a message that the firm is impervious to any form of pressure, and thereby demoralize the workers and their supporters, say supporters of the strikers.

“They want to flaunt their impunity, “ explained Christine Neumann-Ortiz, director of Voces de la Frontera, the influential immigrants-rights group which has reinvigorated Milwaukee’s long tradition of May Day marches—dating back to 1886–by assembling tens of thousands of immigrant workers and supporters. Zeppos has attacked Neumann-Ortiz in harsh terms for supposedly discouraging business development: “I’ve talked to businesses who say, ‘Why should I move to the valley when that’s happening?’ She has hurt the city, she has hurt those workers, and she has hurt herself. She’s become toxic property.”

Palermo’s has managed to replace the striking workers with “scab” replacement workers. Many of these replacement workers were hired through the BG temporary agency, which faces its own set of charges issued by the NLRB—including a contingent of refugees from Myanmar (until recently, a nation wracked by dire poverty ruled by an extraordinarily brutal military dictatorship). A 21 year-old refugee suffered the loss of three fingers in an accident at the plant.

Big subsidies for low-wage jobs

Palermo’s stance has been reinforced by the overtly pro-corporate and anti-unionadministration of Gov. Scott Walker, especially the scandal-wracked Wisconsin Economic Development Agency, which has been willing to overlook the company’s failure to provide family-sustaining wages as promised in exchange for state grants. Wages at Palermo’s have fallen far short of the $12 an hour target set a full decade back in 2003 by the Menominee Valley Partners, a joint public-private initiative, when a plan was laid out for the area, which had been vacated by many large employers. One Palermo’s worker reported that she made just $9.30 an hour after 10 years at the plant.

Total taxpayer subsidies to Palermo’s—from city, state, and federal sources—have totaled $48 million, according to an updated version of an AFL-CIO report called “Too Much Pork in the Pepperoni.”

Allies and foes

Despite Palermo’s failure to meet its obligations to taxpayers, the company has found allies in the Milwaukee area’s top Democratic leaders. County Executive Chris Abele, who both gained office with labor support, openly aligned himself with Palermo’s in an op-ed shortly after the dispute started. For his part, Mayor Tom Barrett issued a deceptively neutral-sounding call for a “fair and timely” union representation election late last November, in a statement describing Palermo’s as “a valued corporate citizen.” But holding elections under the prevailing conditions would mean that the Palermo’s strikers would be shut out of the election while replacement workers would constitute the voters, noted Neumann Ortiz.  “They [Palermo’s and Barrett] only want an election where the voters would be hand-picked,” she pointed out.

But has been extensive support for the workers around the state and in the local community—as exhibited by the clergy-led 18-mile walk to protest Palermo’s practices. At UW-Madison, students held a sit-in ON April 29 at the office of Chancellor David Ward and won a halt to the university’s licensing deal with Palermo’s, under which the UW receiveD about $200,000 for promoting Palermo’s pizzas with a “Bucky Badger” logo.

Some Wisconsin Democrats, like state Rep. Jon Richards, have been actively demanding records on Palermo’s failure to provide the quality jobs needed to comply with the terms of its subsidies. Several County Board and City Council members have also been outspoken in their support of the strikers.

Meanwhile, labor activists nationwide are pressuring chains like San Diego-based Costco to stop carrying Palermo’s pizzas until workers’ rights are honored. While Costco has marketed itself as a humane alternative to Wal-Mart’s infamous low-wage and unashamedly brutal disregard of worker suffering, as with victims of factory disasters in Bangladesh for whom Wal-Mart has denied any responsibility, Costco has thus far refused to budge on selling Palermo’s pizzas  produced under harsh conditions closer to home.

With Palermo’s concession n the rehiring of the eight workers and acknowledgement of labor-law violations, the Palermo’s strikers and their allies see a small step forward. The boycott campaign gains ammunition at universities with strong policies on labor rights.

But until a breakthrough occurs to cut significantly into Palermo’s sales, Palermo’s seems intent on maintaining a hard line against the strikers. Image-conscious Costco, with 449 warehouse-style stores across the U.S., may prove to be the crucial target if Palermo’s workers are ever to win justice.

This article originally posted on Working In These Times on August 5th, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.  

About the Author:Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and University of Illinois visiting professor in Labor Education. Roger’s work has appeared in numerous national publications, including Zmagazine, Dollars & Sense, The Progressive, Progressive Populist, Huffington Post, The American Prospect, Yes! and Foreign Policy in Focus.

Will immigration reform protect workers?

Friday, July 19th, 2013

eidelson_100As House Republicans mull maiming the Senate’s immigration bill, a thousand pundits are asking what their moves will mean for future elections. Meanwhile, far from the spotlight, some courageous immigrant workers are asking whether Congress will finally disarm employers who use immigration status to silence employees. If Congress punts on immigration reform, or merely passes an industry wish list, it will have doubled-down on complicity in a little-discussed trend that’s driving down working conditions for U.S.-born and immigrant workers alike: For too many employers, immigration law is a tool to punish workers who try to organize.

The workers watching Congress include Ana Rosa Diaz, who last year was among the Mexican H-2B visa guest workers at CJ’s Seafood in Louisiana, peeling crawfish sold by Walmart. Accounts from workers and an NGOassessment suggest the CJ’s workers had ample grievances, from the manager that threatened them with a shovel, to the worms and lizards in the moldy trailers where they slept, to the swamp fungus that left sticky blisters on their fingers as they raced through shifts that could last twenty hours.
To maintain that miserable status quo, workers allege, management regularly resorted to threats. The most dramatic came in May 2012, when they say CJ’s boss Mike LeBlanc showed up at the start of their 2 a.m. shift to tell them he knew they were plotting against him, and that he knew “bad men” back in Mexico, and to remind them that — through labor recruiters there — he knew where their families lived. Then LeBlanc ticked off some names, including Diaz’s daughter. Diaz told me the threat of violence was all too clear: “I’ve never been so afraid of anybody in my life.”

Long before that speech, CJ’s workers say their managers deployed an all-too-common threat, what they call the “black list”: not just being deported back to Mexico, but being prevented by recruiters there from ever working in the United States again. “That’s what makes us the bosses’ subjects,” Diaz told me in a 2012 interview. “We’ve realized most bosses use the same tactics…” said her co-worker Martha Uvalle. “‘I’ll send you back to Mexico. I’ll report you to immigration. You’ll never come back.’” (CJ’s Seafood did not respond to various reporters’ requests for comment last year, including mine. Efforts to reach the company for comment last week were unsuccessful.)

Guest workers aren’t the only immigrants whose bosses can wield their immigration status as a weapon. Too often, employers who’ve happily gotten rich off the labor of undocumented workers develop a sudden interest in those employees’ legal status once they start speaking up. A few days after three-year subcontracted food court employee Antonio Vanegas joined a strike in the government-owned Ronald Reagan Building, he was detained by Homeland Security and placed in a four-day immigration detention. The same day that workers at Milwaukee’s Palermo’s Pizza plant presented their boss with a union petition, management presented workers with letters stating they’d need to verify their legal status. Ten days later, Palermo’s fired 75 striking workers, arguing it was just following immigration law.

For every immigrant worker that risks retaliation, there are others that choose not to, chastened by a well-founded fear that their status will be used against them. (There’s a risk of retaliationanytime U.S. workers try to exercise workplace rights, but the threat for undocumented or guest workers is particularly acute.) That vulnerability holds back the efforts of unions and other labor groups to organize and transform low-wage industries — or even to ensure employers pay minimum wage to their workers, immigrant or otherwise. It helps explain why the center of gravity in organized labor — long the site of struggles between exclusion and equality — has swung decisively in recent decades to support immigration reform. Rather than pushing to deport immigrants, unions (including my former employer) are mostly trying to organize them. The less leverage employers have over immigrants’ legal status, the more leverage immigrant and U.S.-born workers will have to wrest dollars and dignity from their bosses together.

The Senate’s immigration bill takes a few key steps to make that easier, each of which activists expect will face strong opposition in the House. The bill features a path to citizenship that organizers expect will help disarm deportation-happy bosses by allowing millions of workers to obtain secure and equal legal status. It creates a new “W visa” program with more labor protections that advocates hope will become a template to someday replace existing guest worker programs like the H-2B. And the bill includes several anti-retaliation measures designed to stem abuse: from more chances for workers who exposed crimes to get special visas or stays of deportation, to language overturning a Supreme Court decision that prevented illegally fired undocumented workers from getting back pay.

Those pro-labor provisions already come with painful sacrifices. Even before the Senate pegged it to a militarized “border surge,” that path to citizenship was long and littered with obstacles. Those include a requirement of near-continuous employment that advocates warn could still leave immigrants especially vulnerable to retaliatory firings, and an exclusion based on criminal convictions that — combined with a mandate that employers use the controversial status-checking software e-Verify — could leave some workers more vulnerable than ever. And advocates note that the H-2B program could at least temporarily more than double in size during the bill, though it would be subject to some modest new protections.

Facing a hostile House, labor officials are framing those Senate compromises as a floor for labor language in immigration reform: “There can be no further erosion of rights, and we’re protecting that as it goes to the House,” says Ana Avendaño, the AFL-CIO’s Director of Immigration and Community Action. But the Senate provisions are more likely to be treated as a ceiling. “We’ll lose all of the worker protection stuff in the House,” said a different advocate working on immigration for a union, and then “hope that reason prevails in the conference” committee tasked with reconciling Senate and House legislation.

The CJ’s Seafood story has an unusual ending: After their boss’s implied threat to their families, Diaz and seven of her co-workers mounted an against-the-odds strike. “We felt,” Diaz told me, “that if we didn’t do something to stop this, sometime in the future, it would be our children going through it.” You won’t find much such courage in Congress.

Article originally published on Reuters on July 17th, 2013.  Reprinted with permission
 
About the Author: Josh Eidelson is a reporter covering labor as a blogger for The Nation and a contributing writer for Salon. He worked as a union organizer for five years.

AFL-CIO Backs Amended Senate Immigration Bill, But Road to Citizenship Must Not Be Further Compromised

Monday, June 24th, 2013

Image: Mike HallThe Senate is expected to hold a key vote today on an amended comprehensive immigration reform bill that maintains a road map to citizenship for aspiring Americans, but also contains changes Republicans demanded to move the legislation forward. We will bring you the results of that vote as soon as it occurs. A vote on final passage is expected this week.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued the following statement on the amended Senate bill:

Building a commonsense immigration system that will allow millions of aspiring Americans to become citizens is a top priority for the labor movement in 2013. The Senate immigration bill represents an important step toward building such a system—even though it has become less inclusive, less compassionate and less just since it emerged in April as the Gang of Eight’s bipartisan compromise.

By legalizing millions of people who have been forced to live and work without the ability to exercise fundamental rights, the bill will go a long way toward lifting aspiring Americans out of poverty and raising standards and pay for all workers. But legalization is just the first step: a road map to citizenship is not only about economic fairness, it is also a civil rights issue. At its essence, America is about citizenship: the right to vote, the right to serve in public office and the responsibility to defend America’s values and the Constitution, which guarantees equality, justice, freedom and fairness.

Republicans have extracted a high price for moving this necessary legislation forward. The latest price for Republican support is the establishment of triggers to citizenship that, as Senator Leahy noted, read “like a Christmas wish list for Halliburton” and are clearly designed for one reason, to keep people from becoming citizens. There is no logical connection between achieving maximum militarization of the border and letting people who have spent 10 years in temporary status move closer to citizenship. Indeed, future Republicans afraid of immigrant voters might forestall achievement of triggers in order to deny citizenship to people who have satisfied a variety of conditions, including staying employed, avoiding public benefits and possessing no criminal history.

These triggers are on top of previous compromises of sound policy for Republican support, such as enabling American tech companies to fire local workers in order to bring in less well paid temporary H-1B visa holders. America deserves better.

We expect that we will be better off with the bill than with the continuing, catastrophic deportation crisis that is wrecking workforces, families and communities across our country.

For these reasons, the AFL-CIO urges senators to support this compromise bill—even as we make clear that no further compromise to the road map to citizenship can be tolerated by the labor movement or by our allies. Now it is time for the House to act and deliver a broad and certain path to citizenship.

At the same time, we renew our call to President Obama to ease this crisis by stopping the deportation of those who would qualify for relief under the bill.

This article was originally published in AFL-CIO on June 24, 2013.  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 have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

Domestic Insurgents

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Rebecca BurnsReal-life nannies have never had much in common with Fran Drescher’s “flashy girl from Flushing.” The domestic workforce is overwhelmingly composed of women of color, many of them immigrants. Care workers often labor for long hours under grueling conditions. In many states, they lack even basic workplace protections, a result of their exclusion from collective bargaining under the 1935 National Labor Relations Act.

Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, is out to change much more than labor law. Poo grew up watching her Taiwanese immigrant parents struggle to balance work and family, and she believes that good jobs for domestic workers would also help solve what she calls the nation’s “care crisis.”

Poo leads a 10,000-member strong coalition of nannies, caregivers and housecleaners whose accomplishments include passage of the nation’s first Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in New York in 2010. Named one of TIME’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” last year, Poo made her mark by transforming perceptions of what labor organizing should look and sound like—she speaks unabashedly, for example, about the importance of “organizing with love.” Poo spoke with In These Times from her New York office.

Domestic workers have long been thought impossible to organize. What’s allowed their movement to catch fire?

Domestic workers are a critical connective element—they have ties to their own families and communities, as well as the families and communities that they work for. In New York, it took almost seven years to finally have the [Domestic Workers Bill of Rights] signed. And domestic workers were at the core of the movement, but children also marched with signs that read, “Respect My Nanny.” Doormen, who see every day the long hours the nannies and housekeepers are working in their buildings, came out to support them. Many young people and LGBT organizations supported us from the beginning. Since then, we’ve gained power as elected officials who have mothers or grandmothers who are domestic workers have joined our coalition.

You also involve employers in your coalition, which is somewhat unusual for a labor organization. Is this ever controversial?

In a campaign for human dignity, there’s no such thing as an unlikely ally. We believe in creating the context for people to do the right thing. We assume that most people, if given the opportunity, will choose justice and equity and fair treatment.

Do you see the interests of domestic workers and employers overlapping?

Absolutely. In the care sector, one of the overarching problems that affects both workers and employers is that our economy has never fully accounted for [domestic] work. Caring Across Generations, the national campaign that we co-anchor with Jobs with Justice and several unions, is bringing Americans together to say, “Families need support, and workers need to have sustainable living-wage jobs.” We need a broader movement recognizing that care is fundamental and that we should all have access to it—including the workers who do this work and also have children who need care.

What experiences from your own life have led you to value care work?

My grandmother is my hero. She raised me when I was very little, and she taught me most of the values that have been important in my life. She lives independently in her own apartment and has a very good quality of life because she’s supported by a caregiver named Mrs. Sun. And after my grandfather had a stroke, Mrs. Sun also took care of him until he passed away. She helped him through a period where he was half-paralyzed and dealing with depression. She made life bearable for him. I see what an incredible gift it is to have somebody really committed to providing care for your family.

The idea that domestic workers are “just part of the family” often serves as a justification to deny them basic workplace protections. Is there a tension, when organizing domestic workers, in whether or not to employ sentimental rhetoric that could reinforce the idea that nannies or housekeepers are working out of love for the family?

Love isn’t necessarily soft, right? Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.” The way that we think about leading with love is through a deep connection to everybody’s fundamental human dignity. There’s a real power in that, and a power in human relationships that are built on respect and recognition of one another’s humanity. Love and anger aren’t opposites, either. Sometimes you have to draw the line and fight, and that’s also about love.

Domestic workers are at the forefront of a surge of creative organizing by low-wage workers. Right now this is happening primarily outside of traditional union structures. But do you see formal union recognition as an eventual goal for domestic workers?

The reality is that the traditional model of collective bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act framework doesn’t quite fit for our workforce. Even if we weren’t excluded from the NLRA, there’s no collective, and there’s no one to bargain with—none of the traditional kinds of assumptions are there.

In the 90s, when I first started organizing with domestic workers, it was seen as a shadow, marginal workforce. But as we look around, more and more of the American workforce is dealing with some of the very same dynamics: isolation, part-time and contingent work, vulnerability and job insecurity. And so if we can figure out the models that work for domestic workers, we can contribute that to a broader conversation about reinventing the labor movement for the 21st century.

Likewise, what can the greater visibility of care workers contribute to feminism? Some feminists have been criticized for focusing on professional women who rely on the help of domestic workers, rather than on those workers.

We need a new economic vision in this country and around the world, period. Any vision for the future really needs to revalue two types of resources—the planet’s natural resources and the work that goes into caring for families. These resources have been undervalued and exploited, and it’s hurtling us into crisis.

The unsustainability of the economy is being borne by women, at multiple levels. They’re now more than half of the paid workforce, and they’re still responsible for the lion’s share of family caregiving and management. By making visible all the ways that women are currently holding things together, we can also tell the story of the kind of economy that we need: more workplace flexibility, paid leave and universal childcare.

So I think this is an opportunity not just to rebuild the women’s movement, but to position women’s experiences of a very unsustainable economy at the center of a new economic vision.

A report co-published by your organization last year found that 35 percent of domestic workers are noncitizens, and 46 percent are foreignborn. What impact could immigration reform have on the movement?

I believe this is the biggest organizing opportunity of generations—the potential for 11 million undocumented people to come out of the shadows and the potential to bring millions and millions of workers into the labor movement. For many domestic workers, not living in fear of raids or deportation would be game-changing.

Hopefully, the road to citizenship will include all 11 million who’ve been contributing to building the economy and building this country. So far, there’s a conversation about fast-tracking agricultural workers and high-tech workers, and I think there’s also an opportunity to talk about fast-tracking care workers.

You’re regarded as a visionary in the labor movement. That’s not an easy feat for a young woman of color. What advice do you have for young organizers?

I’ve been very fortunate to have mentors who were willing to share lessons, give me some historical perspective and remind me that nothing worthwhile was ever easy. The highs are only as high as the lows get. I think it’s also important to take a step back every so often and remember that it’s a long road. But things will take shape when you trust in the power of workers and a vision for a more dignified, caring world for all of us.

This article was originally posted on the Working In These Times on April 1, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Burns, In These Times Assistant Editor, holds an M.A. from the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, where her research focused on global land and housing rights. A former editorial intern at the magazine, Burns also works as a research assistant for a project examining violence against humanitarian aid workers.

Labor Board Deals Blow to Fired Immigrant Strikers in Wisconsin

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

WISCONSIN—The union campaign at Palermo’s Pizza in Milwaukee.—which offers a test case in integrating labor, immigrant and community-based organizing—was dealt a painful blow last week by the regional National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB told both sides it would not find the company’s mass firing of immigrant strikers to be illegal, would not protect other strikers from being “permanently replaced,” and would not order the company to enter collective bargaining.

“The Labor Board, it wasn’t very favorable to our cause,” Palermo’s striker Raul de la Torre tells Working in These Times in Spanish. “There was ample evidence to show that the company violated the rights of a majority of workers.”

The decision was announced by labor and management on November 21 and is expected to be issued in writing by the NLRB this week. Organizers celebrated some portions of the NLRB’s decision, including an expected complaint (similar to an indictment) against Palermo’s on other counts of union-busting, including nine other firings. But they pledged to appeal the NLRB’s choice not to pursue the mass termination–a significant legal setback for immigrant worker organizing–and not to require the company to negotiate.

Voces de La Frontera, a low-wage workers’ center and immigrant rights group, has been organizing Palermo’s workers around issues like staffing and wages since 2008 and has helped spur a nationwide boycott of Palermo’s products. Voces Executive Director Christine Neumann-Ortiz said the NLRB’s validation of some of the charges against Palermo’s offered “very good affirmation for the boycott.”

But Neumann-Ortiz called the decision not to prosecute the mass firings “a travesty of justice in terms of immigrant worker rights” that shows how immigration laws are being applied in a way that “is undermining federally protected rights for all workers.” She said workers and their supporters “fully intend on getting that decision overturned both in the streets and in the legal system.”

In an emailed statement, Palermo’s President Giacomo Fallucca wrote, “We are proud that the NLRB decision confirms that we complied with the applicable laws. Voces de la Frontera should be embarrassed that its blatantly false claims have been rejected so soundly.” Dismissing the NLRB’s remaining charges as “minor technicalities,” Fallucca described the decision as “a major victory for Palermo’s and our workers” and urged Voces to “get out of the way” of an NLRB election.

Richard Saks, an attorney for the Palermo’s Workers Union, said it was “significant that the NLRB found Palermo’s guilty of a wide range of various serious violations of federal labor law, including retaliation and surveiling and interfering with employee rights to support the union and engage in protected activities.” But he said the union was “disappointed” that the regional NLRB had not found the firing of 75 strikers to be against the law.

As I’ve previously reported for Working in These Times, Palermo’s workers began actively pursuing unionization in the spring with support from Voces, the AFL-CIO and the United Steelworkers (USW) union (an AFL-CIO affiliate). In May, three-quarters of production workers signed a petition seeking recognition as the Palermo’s Workers Union. By law, companies can choose to recognize a union based on such a demonstration of majority support. Or they can then be forced to recognize a union if workers win an NLRB-supervised election.

Palermo’s refused to recognize the union, and the same day, workers were told that they had 28 days (soon reduced to 10) to prove that their immigration status authorized them to work in the United States.

In response, workers submitted a petition to the NLRB seeking a union election. Many also went on strike. Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in what appears to be the first application of an agreement with the Department of Labor designed to avoid manipulation of ICE for union-busting, announced on June 7 that it was suspending immigration enforcement at Palermo’s. But the next day, Palermo’s fired 75 striking workers. Management called this legal compliance; organizers called it obvious union-busting.

The workers have now been on strike for almost six months. The union election has been repeatedly delayed, both by successive union-busting allegations filed by Voces and, before that, by a petition from a rival union, the United Food & Commercial Workers, to appear as an alternative to the Palermo Workers Union (the PWU is expected to affiliate with the USW). Because of the gravity of the union-busting allegations, the change in the make-up of the potential pool of voters (as strikers are replaced by new hires), and the wide margin by which workers originally petitioned management, USW and Voces began arguing that a fair election was no longer possible, and that the NLRB should issue a bargaining order requiring Palermo’s to proceed directly to negotiations with the PWU instead. Such orders are rare.

The NLRB strategy carried risks from the beginning. Because of the opportunities they provide employers to intimidate workers, and because of the limited leverage they offer to compel employers to actually negotiate in good faith, some major unions have essentially abandoned NLRB elections, opting instead for “comprehensive campaigns” to pressure employers to voluntarily grant union recognition based on a showing of majority support.

Interviewed in September, AFL-CIO Director of Immigration and Community Action Ana Avendaño described the Palermo’s struggle as an example where filing for an NLRB election might be serving an important purpose, because it provided a formal demonstration to ICE that the workers were actively organizing, thus securing the suspension of enforcement. Avendaño said that could make the NLRB filing worthwhile, despite the risks, and even if actual union recognition was won through a voluntary agreement reached because of the strike and the comprehensive campaign.

But the ICE letter didn’t stop Palermo’s from firing 75 workers, and the regional NLRB is not planning to prosecute those terminations. According to Saks, the NLRB “is essentially saying that the company would have acted that [same] way absent the strike and absent the unionization effort.” He added that because the NLRB was not finding the mass firing to be illegal, it also would not consider the strike to be an “Unfair Labor Practices” strike, and thus Palermo’s could legally “permanently replace” those strikers who haven’t been fired.

Saks said that the NLRB’s choice not to issue a bargaining order means that “there will probably have to be an election at some point for union recognition.” He said the Board has not indicated how quickly that could happen. If the regional NLRB’s decision stands, it could wait to schedule an election until after reaching resolution on all the charges it is proceeding with against Palermo’s.

That leaves union activists hoping for one of three results: Getting the regional NLRB’s decision changed on appeal; winning a majority of the current voter pool in an NLRB election; or winning union recognition and the reinstatement of the fired workers directly from Palermo’s through its comprehensive campaign. “All of those options are still on the table,” said Neumann-Ortiz. She said that while the favorable aspects of the NLRB’s decision provide validation for the workers’ allegations, the disappointing ones demonstrate “the importance of continued public support for these workers to have justice prevail.”

So far, the comprehensive campaign’s main lever has been a consumer boycott of Palermo’s pizzas, including pressure on Costco, the chain where the majority of Palermo’s product is sold. Organizers credit behind-the-scenes pressure from Costco—which benefits from a progressive reputation as an “anti-Walmart”—for spurring Palermo’s to seek a meeting with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in September. This month, De la Torre and other Palermo’s workers made a national tour, demonstrating at several Costco locations before arriving at headquarters in Washington state, where they met with officials from the company.

De la Torre described the meeting as “very positive” and said the Costco representatives “were surprised to hear what Palermo’s has done to the workers.” At the end of the meeting, said De la Torre, a Costco official “made the comment that if the charges that we made against the company were validated [by the NLRB], they could buy their pizza from any other company.”

The campaign has also targeted universities, including the campuses of the University of Wisconsin. UW-Madison undergraduate Allie Gardner said the boycott is “absolutely a student issue, because we’re on campus and we’re the ones who are paying tuition to go to this school that is then creating contracts with corporations that aren’t honoring the labor policies that we’ve created as an institution.” Gardner is a board member of the United States Students Association and of the statewide UW student council, both of which have passed resolutions calling on universities to support the boycott. The licensing committee at UW-Madison has unanimously called for the university to end its Palermo’s contract; students are pressing the university’s chancellor to honor that recommendation. The UW-Milwaukee student senate recently voted to endorse a boycott as well.

Last month, in an AFL-CIO report and legislative testimony by workers, the campaign also questioned state subsidies provided to Palermo’s.

 “With the progress of the strike and the boycott so far, I feel happy,” said De la Torre. “But I’m not yet satisfied.”

Full disclosure: The United Steelworkers is an In These Times sponsor.

This post was originally posted on Working In These Times on November 28, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Josh Eidelson is a freelance writer and a contributor at In These Times, The American Prospect, Dissent, and Alternet.  After receiving his MA in Political Science, he worked as a union organizer for five years.  His website is http://www.josheidelson.com. Twitter: @josheidelson E-mail: “jeidelson” at “gmail” dot com.

A Discussion on Granting Back Pay to Undocumented Workers under the NLRA and the IRCA

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a Cornell ILR Alumni Reception on September 20, 2012, I asked NLRB Chairman Mark Pearce, the keynote speaker, about the nearly six-year deliberation and unusual concurrence in Mezonos Maven Bakery, where the NLRB ultimately reversed an Administrative Law Judge’s (ALJ) 2006 decision granting back pay to undocumented workers under the NLRA.  Speaking candidly, Chairman Pearce emphasized the importance of trying to find consensus in the Board’s voice, and the difficulty of reconciling this case with a 2002 Supreme Court holding in Hoffman Plastic Compounds v. NLRB that appeared to prohibit back pay remedies for undocumented workers.  In recent weeks, Chairman Pearce has added that he “had angst over” the decision, and that “the concept of ‘made whole’ … needs to be examined [by us].”

I first became familiar with Mezonos (and a companion case, Imperial Buffet, though the restaurant-employer later went bankrupt) in the summer of 2011 when working as a Judicial Law Clerk for ALJs Steven Davis and Steven Fish—the finders-of-fact for those cases. These were cases where the employer had flouted their legal obligations to verify work documentation under IRCA, and then further violated the NLRA without having to pay out the central remedy of back pay because the workers were undocumented. Given the inequitable outcomes and the perverse incentives, ALJs Davis and Fish argued for a factual distinction of an employer who was doubly-liable under both IRCA and the NLRA from the Hoffman Plastics scenario of a worker fraudulently submitting false documents to an employer following the legal requirements under IRCA.

On August 9, 2011, the NLRB in its 3-0 decision, following some bruising years after the Boeing case, operating without a sufficient quorum, and an unprecedented attempt by House Republicans to defund the independent agency, locked into politically safe position of extending the Hoffman Plastics holding to cover the Mezonos factual scenario, though then Chairwoman Liebman and incoming Chairman Pearce wrote a concurrence critical of this perverse outcome.

Although a re-thinking of “making whole” may provide a more adequate array of remedies than mere back pay, which is the NLRB’s only real stick in ensuring compliance with its rulings, the NLRB had a strong jurisprudential basis in which to use the fault-based analysis to factually distinguish the Mezonos scenario from Hoffman Plastics.  Specifically, there are examples in tort law and contract law, including the “last clear chance” doctrine and exceptions to in pari delicto, which ensure that the fault-ridden party is ultimately held liable even in a legal regime that might suggest otherwise.

As reconsideration was denied by the NLRB in December 2011, if this case ultimately finds its way into the Second Circuit (or, less likely, the D.C. Circuit), it would be worth considering how these arguments for a fault-based analysis might just result in a ruling that helps protect labor rights while still achieving the aims of our national immigration policy. After all, much angst might be resolved by having reconcilable laws work together, rather than interpreting them at cross-purposes.

This article is based on Jon L. Dueltgen’s award winning essay. He placed second place in a writing competition on labor and employment law offered by the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers. An earlier version of the paper also received recognition from the Louis Jackson National Writing competition.

About the Author: Jon L. Dueltgen is a third-year law student at the University of Pennsylvania and a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.  His paper on Mezonos Brooklyn Bakery: A Bridge Too Far for Hoffman Plastics was most recently recognized by the ABA/College of Labor and Employment Law National Writing Competition.

On May Day, No Borders Between Workers

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

Image: Mike Hall

May Day—International Workers’ Day—is a day when there should be no borders or barriers between workers around the world, said Shawna Bader-Blau, executive director of the Solidarity Center, at a special May Day forum at the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C., today.

Bader-Blau presented video greetings from union leaders and worker activists around the globe, including Heli Vargas, International Affairs secretary of one of the Solidarity Center’s partners in Peru, the CGTP (Confederacion General de Trabajadores del Peru). Said Vargas:

“Just as the companies are globalized to exploit us, the actions of the workers and unions must also be globalized as businesses are.”

The forum focused on the challenges and conditions of Latina and immigrant workers in the United States and women workers around the globe. Andrea Delgado, senior policy analyst and communications manager for the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), said there are some 24 million Latinas in the United States—64 percent native born and 36 percent foreign born. Citing data from a new LCLAA report, Delgado said with 60 percent or fewer Latinas holding a high school degree, many are in low-wage, low-quality jobs where “they are an easy target for discrimination.” Also, in many cases,

“their immigrant status is used as a tool to prevent them from organizing into unions or going to the government to report abuses and other employer violations.”

Delgado noted that Latina workers suffer from the same—and often more so—wage and job discrimination and sexual harassment as all women workers. She said LCLAA and other workers’ right groups are fighting to ensure Latinas have jobs:

where their rights are respected—not just as workers—but as women.

You can find out more from LCLAA’s report, “Trabajadoras: Challenges and Conditions of Latina Workers in the United States.” Click here to download.

The forum included Iris Munguia, the first women elected to lead COLSIBA, the union for banana workers in eight Latin American nations. Speaking through a translator, Munguia explained how women built power and a voice in a male-dominated sector, first by forming women’s committees at individual worksites that grew into a coalition throughout Honduras before building out to other nations.

They have developed a Women’s Rights Platform that is now a template used in negotiations with nearly two dozen large employers. The three central demands are:

  • More employment of women that includes the right of freedom of association and collective bargaining;
  • Limiting the use of chemicals and other pesticides in the fields; and
  • The end of sexual harassment.

COLSIBA has worked closely with the AFL-CIO in the recent filing of petition with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Trade and Labor Affairs that charges the Honduran government with failure to effectively enforce its labor laws and comply with its commitments under the six-year-old Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA). Click here for more.

Munguia said she couldn’t stress enough,

“The high importance that solidarity has been with our sisters and brothers in the United States and across Latin America….Your help will help us win.”

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.

Supreme Court’s E-Verify Decision Devastating for Employers, Immigrant Workers

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

kari-lydersenImmigrants rights advocates and employers, including farmers, are lashing out at the Supreme Court’s May 26 decision upholding Arizona’s right to demand employers use the controversial e-Verify system, which is meant to confirm whether someone is in the country legally.

The decision also allowed Arizona to continue the so-called “business death penalty,” which entails denying a business license to employers found guilty more than once of violating a 2007 law against hiring undocumented workers.

The e-Verify system has been widely criticized for errors, including flagging legal and native-born residents as undocumented. That’s among the reasons Illinois sought to ban its use by private employers. A federal court shot down those efforts, but the Illinois legislature did pass a state law trying to safeguard against the misuse of the system.

All employers with federal contracts are required to use E-Verify, and Texas Republican Congressman Lamar Smith is among those pushing to make it mandatory nationally.

Immigrants rights groups are allied with employers – even those that they allege exploit undocumented immigrants – in stridently opposing mandatory e-Verify use. The Supreme Court decision was the result of a lawsuit filed by the Chamber of Commerce opposing Arizona’s law. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other employer groups also sued unsuccessfully over the mandate that E-Verify be used by federal contractors. Florida has proposed a bill similar to Arizona’s regarding E-Verify. The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce opposes it.

Agricultural employers and immigrants rights groups point out that the nation’s guest worker program and overall immigration system are so badly broken that agricultural growers will simply not be able to find the needed employees especially during harvest times if they really are barred from hiring undocumented workers.

Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of the group America’s Voice Education Fund, said in a press release:

Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling is a dagger in the heart of Arizona agriculture.  If this type of law spreads nationwide, we will essentially deport the entire agriculture industry—including jobs held by Americans—and be forced to import more of our nation’s food supply. Passing a mandatory E-Verify law without comprehensive immigration reform will kill American jobs and farms, burden small businesses, reduce tax revenue, and drive undocumented workers further underground.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made similar points in an op-ed:

As Secretary of Agriculture I have met farmers and ranchers all over the country who worry that our immigration system is broken. They are unable to find the necessary number of farmworkers and sometimes struggle to verify their work authorization papers – all while wondering if they’ll have enough help for their next harvest.

And while some American citizens step up and take these jobs, the truth is that even when farmers make their best efforts to recruit a domestic work force, few citizens express interest, and even fewer show up to spend long hours laboring in the hot sun.

In a twist on the misguided idea that immigrants “steal” American jobs, Vilsack described immigrant farm workers essentially protecting U.S. jobs through their crucial role on U.S. farms:

If American agriculture lost access to adequate farm labor, it could cost the industry as much as $9 billion each year. Already, some American producers are opening up operations in Mexico. So we must take action to prevent the further outsourcing of farm-related jobs.

Meanwhile, the Bay Citizen nonprofit news outlet described how lucrative wineries in Napa Valley, Calif., have found it in their own self-interest to treat undocumented workers fairly, rather than paying them as little as possible or sometimes not at all as is often the case in agriculture and other industries that hire large numbers of undocumented workers.

Emmy-winning producer Scott James reported:

Without migrant labor, most of it from Mexico, the wine producers in Napa would be hard pressed to fill a carafe, much less the valley’s nine million annual cases. Experts estimate that 8,000 to 12,000 illegal migrants reside (often seasonally) in Napa, although the number is impossible to confirm.

Ten years ago, they could be found living in the woods in makeshift camps, sleeping on fetid mattresses and drinking from dirty streams. Today they receive subsidized housing, or can reside in three tidy dormitory complexes near St. Helena and Yountville where up to 180 workers pay $12 a day for room and board.

This Blog Originally appeared in These Working Times on May 30, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Kari Lydersen is 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 is Revolt on Goose Island. In 2011, she was awarded a Studs Terkel Community Media Award for her work. She can be reached at kari.lydersen@gmail.com.

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