Recently in Workers' Rights Category

The Obama administration is trying to defuse a trade skirmish with Mexico by proposing to allow long-haul Mexican trucks access to the U.S. after banning them from U.S. roads in March 2009. Like many industries in which U.S. workers feel pressure from non-Americans willing to do the same work for less pay, U.S. truckers are upset, judging by the negative reaction from Teamsters president James Hoffa. But did he have to dredge up the bogeyman of border violence to make his case?

the proposal by the Transportation Department was denounced by the Teamsters union, which represents long-haul truckers and fears that expanded Mexican trucking within the United States will threaten jobs.

"I am deeply disappointed by this proposal," the union's president, James P. Hoffa, said in a statement. "Why would the D.O.T. propose to threaten U.S. truck drivers' and warehouse workers' jobs when unemployment is so high? And why would we do it when drug cartel violence along the border is just getting worse?" Mr. Hoffa also raised safety concerns.

The Teamsters make a stink, and Democratic politicians don't know what to do, not wanting to take a strong position on the issue that will upset either labor or immigrant rights constituencies, or both.

In situations like this, business has the last laugh. Transnational corporations move capital and goods more or less freely across borders, and move management from country to country with relatively little trouble. But workers are stuck in the countries they were born in, either fighting to cross borders in contravention of business-oriented immigration laws or fighting to send workers just like them back to the countries they escaped from. Why is the assumption about low-wage migration always that when workers have more options and more freedom, workers will lose? Why do workers always end up pitted against each other across borders instead of working together, while corporate profits keep rolling in? It doesn't have to be this way.

There's a cosmopolitan, classically liberal element of business that is aligned with an open borders immigration policy. But business in the U.S. has generally been focused on increasing the flow of high-skill, high-wage workers, ceding control over conservative messaging to nativists. Business has not pulled its weight in recent years in promoting liberal immigration reform, it had delivered a paltry number of Republican politicians for any compromise bill and has by now lost even those. Business's families aren't being separated every day, business isn't getting locked up and deported, business isn't dying in the desert. Business is doing just fine under the status quo.

When the Teamsters play to nativist sympathies to keep immigrant workers out of the U.S. or stuck in the underground economy, they are ultimately not doing any favors for U.S. workers.

(Check out Mexico Trucker Online for "straight talk about Mexico and Mexican trucks.")

This Christmas Eve come two reminders of the suffering that migrants in the U.S. currently endure. Each shows us the distance we still have to travel, the imagination, courage, love, and tenacity still required of us in this struggle. Each reminds us that the suffering of migrants is a small subset of the suffering of the disenfranchised who remain in their home countries.

First, via Jaya Ramji-Nogales at IntLawGrrls, comes a new report from the Women's Refugee Commission on the harsh impact on families that ICE enforcement actions can have. The intersection of immigration enforcement and state and local child custody rules leaves a dangerous gap through which immigrant children fall. Too often, the result is that the U.S. government doesn't just take a parent's freedom, but also takes their child. Baby theft from indigent immigrant parents wasn't just something Americans did in Guatemala and other poor countries in recent years, it is happening now to immigrants in the U.S.

Jaya breaks it down:

To start, when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) apprehend undocumented immigrants, their protocols are insufficient to identify parents and prioritize them for release. Indeed, the guidance for agents who encounter juveniles during fugitive operations directs officers to contact child welfare services, which can complicate parents rights. In any case, there are no procedures to ensure that parents can make care arrangements for their children before they are detained.

Once undocumented parents are detained, it becomes extremely difficult to communicate with their children and the child welfare system due to limitations on telephone access and frequent distant transfers of immigration detainees. Not only does this pose serious obstacles to ensuring safe care for immigrants' children, it may contribute directly to termination of parental rights. For example, the child welfare system's family reunification plan may require regular phone calls and contact visits that are all but impossible for detained parents. Detained parents are also often unable to participate in family court proceedings, either because child welfare services cannot locate them so they do not receive notice of the hearing or because they are unable to be present at the hearing.

Finally, when undocumented parents are deported, the dearth of information provided by ICE about the timing of deportation can make reunification very difficult. Parents are often notified of their deportation at the very last minute -- too late to make travel arrangements for their children -- or ICE changes travel plans after parents have already purchased expensive, nonrefundable tickets for their children to accompany them. This and the other failures of coordination between immigration and child welfare systems described above result in the long-term and in some cases permanent separation of families, inflicting serious psychological trauma on the citizen children of undocumented immigrants.

Second, the Economist has a piece on the heartbreaking challenges undocumented farmworkers in California face today. The article follows poor indigenous families from Mexico who have relocated to the fields of California, following the "Okies" generations ago.

One family left Oaxaca after their oldest son died because they couldn't afford to pay a doctor after he became ill after a flood. They have been robbed by coyotes, chased and beaten by border patrol, exploited by employers, poisoned by pesticides, harassed by police, and threatened by neighbors. They faced these obstacles so their other children could have a future, so their children could survive childhood.

This is the dark side of the American Dream, the one most Americans prefer to ignore and forget. But pretending not to see migrants and their problems doesn't mean they don't exist. It does mean that all Americans are responsible for this moral monstrosity--voters, elected officials, consumers, and taxpayers all have a hand in maintaining this perverse systemic injustice. Building the border wall higher and sturdier won't make the poor and their problems disappear, either, whether inside or outside the U.S. It only underscores our culpability and the hypocrisy of our willful blindness.

The Economist correspondent reminds us of the globalization of poverty and the connectedness of all human beings by ending the report in this way:

People like the Vegas will always keep coming, no matter the fences that go up on the border and the helicopters that circle above. For they are like the Joads. As Steinbeck wrote: "How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can't scare him--he has known a fear beyond every other."
AFL-CIO field staffer Will Fischer, a Marine Corps vetaran, explains how the DREAM Act would boost military recruitment in a blog post.

Below is a statement from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:

Statement by AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka On the DREAM Act
September 20, 2010

Now is the time to pass the DREAM act and give hope to our nation's youth. Every year, thousands of students graduate from high school and are barred from serving in the military or attending college - solely because of their immigration status. Despite their achievements and dreams, these graduating seniors' lives are paralyzed, and our country is deprived of their contributions.

I'm happily returning from my blogging hiatus this week to make a common-sense argument: passing the DREAM Act is not only the right thing to do, but in these trying economic times it is also the sensible thing to do. 

I am such a passionate advocate for the DREAM Act that I often forget there are people in this world that don't know what the DREAM Act is.  According to Wikipedia:

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (also called "The DREAM Act") [is] a piece of proposed federal legislation in the United States that would provide certain immigrant students who graduate from a [U.S. high school], are of good moral character, arrived in the US as children, and have been in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill's enactment, the opportunity to earn conditional permanent residency.
Wikipedia (23 March 2009)
The National Immigration Law Center also has a basic information sheet (pdf) that I print out and give to people who are not familiar with the DREAM Act.  I don't go into any migration-related meeting without it.  In 2007, I pushed hard for the DREAM Act when it was introduced  in the U.S. Senate, and I was crushed when it failed.  Migrant youth cannot wait any longer.  The time to pass the DREAM Act is now. 
The following is a guest post by Farmworker Justice, a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower migrant and seasonal farmworkers to improve their living and working conditions, immigration status, health, occupational safety and access to justice.

850.jpgBefore leaving office, the Bush Administration is leaving one parting "gift" to our nation's farmworkers.  In midnight regulation changes to the nation's agricultural guestworker program he will slash wages and reduce worker protections for those who harvest our crops. 

The changes, proposed by the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were revealed on the DOL website late Monday evening but have not been officially published in the Federal Register yet.

The H-2A program is a temporary agricultural guestworker program that permits employers to apply for permission to hire foreign labor for jobs lasting ten months or less.  To bring in H-2A guestworkers, employers must show that they cannot find U.S. workers who want the jobs.
These will be the most far-reaching changes in the laws regulating agricultural guestworker programs since 1942.  They will return us to an era of agricultural labor exploitation that many thought ended decades ago.
The changes cut wage rates and wage protections for both domestic and foreign workers, minimize recruitment obligations inside the U.S. and curtail or eliminate much of the government oversight that is supposed to deter and remedy illegal employer conduct. 

This parting gift on behalf of the Bush Administration to our nation's farmworkers is irresponsible and completely unacceptable.  The H-2A guestworker program is already rife with abuse.  These changes will only make a bad program worse.  That's why today, Farmworker Justice is releasing a special report, Litany of Abuses, Why We Need More --Not Fewer-- Labor Protections in the H-2A Guestworker Program.  You can download the report here: LitanyofAbuseReport12-09-08.pdf

This report explains the current protections within the program and highlights some recent court cases illustrating the harm caused to both U.S. farmworkers and guestworkers alike.  We urge you to take a look at the report then act now to urge Congress to take action to stop the Bush Administration from formally issuing the regulations.

The aim of the Administration is to create an endless supply of guestworkers who our government will allow to be exploited at low wage wages and suffer grueling productivity standards that U.S. workers cannot afford to accept.  At a time of economic crisis when the jobless rate has reached a 15 year high, such actions on the part of this outgoing administration are immoral and unacceptable. 

We call on Congress to do whatever it takes to overturn the Administration's changes to the H-2A guestworker program.  There are reasonable alternatives to the farm labor crisis that have won bipartisan support.

During this holiday season, with so many families facing overwhelming economic burdens, we must think about the families toiling to put food on our tables.  They deserve fair wages and decent working conditions.  Bush's legacy to farmworkers must be undone.

For more information on the H-2A regulatory changes, and news as it develops, please our H-2A News page on our website.

American Harvest, Now on DVD

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American Harvest pie.jpgWhite Hot Films has released its ground-breaking documentary, American Harvest, on DVD.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't see too many nativists or anti-migrant organization pushing for the real solutions to our immigration issue which has a lot to do with the way our companies and country treats these people abroad.  Rather than promoting fair labor and sustainability in other countries these angry groups only seek to build walls and terror tactics to keep them from coming here.  With this thought I bring you the video titled "The Story of Stuff" which explains how American greed and consumerism is aiding the destruction of economies and environment abroad.

"Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life. That we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals. That we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction in consumption. We need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever accelerated rate.


A Labor Day Attack on Farmworkers

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Amid all the hype of political conventions, analysis of the Republican VP pick and Labor Day celebrations for the rest of the country, the Bush Administration will launch an attack on the nation's farmworkers.

Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao and Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, at any moment,will announce extensive changes to the H-2A guestworker program, slashing wages and reducing worker protections for hundreds of thousands of our nation's farmworkers. These policy changes deserve our attention.

The H-2A program is a temporary agricultural guestworker program that permits employers to apply for permission to hire foreign labor for jobs lasting ten months or less. To bring in H-2A guestworkers, employers must show that they cannot find U.S. workers who want the jobs. These will be the most far-reaching changes in the laws regulating guestworker programs since 1942. If the changes are finalized, as we expect them to be next week, and take effect, this Administration will have returned us to an era of agricultural labor exploitation that many thought ended over 65 years ago.

What a Labor Day gift to farmworkers!

This is the story of those migrants swept of in the Postville Iowa immigration raid as told by one of the interpreters. The article, at the New York Times, is titled "An Interpreter Speaking Up for Migrants" and only serves to remind us of the injustices against those simply trying to work and survive. When I read a story about migrants being detained and unjustly prosecuted I think of what the United States is supposed to represent and stand for. We like to think this is the “land of the free, home of the brave” and place where “liberty and justice for all” is not just a slogan for a dime store t-shirt. The truth is many that come here, through whatever means, see the country the same way so it’s hard to read about people being shackled and dragged through court only to end up in prison in this land where “all men are created equal.”

From Erik Camayd-Freixas’s video on the NY Times website:

What was striking was to see these people enter – and basically you know they’re shackled at their feet, at their wrists and their wrists are shackled to their waste with chains. So they can only take a few little steps, short little steps and the chains are dragging on the floor so it makes a terrible impression. Then you see that they are all about five feet tall and you start – when they start calling their names you start recognizing Mayan names – last names. So there was a real racial contrast between the detainees in chains and the rest of the court with its grandeur. They were being charged with Social Security fraud, using a false Social Security number, but what struck me was that they were also being charged with aggravated identity theft and that just seemed awkward. It didn’t fit.

I just saw a video on the plight of Indian guest workers working for Signal International in New Orleans.  This just goes to show that we're fighting for more than just rights here.  We're fighting for migrant freedom.

Contact the New Orleans' Workers Center for Racial Justice to find out how you can help.

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