News From the Front: The POWER Act

By Sarita Gupta & Saket Sohni | Originally posted in HuffingtonPost.com
Posted: 06/20/11 01:33 PM ET

In the fight for workers’ right to organize in America, link a 19-year-old migrant construction worker is on the front lines.

Josue Diaz is a member of the Congress of Day Laborers in New Orleans. After Hurricane Ike struck the Gulf Coast, Josue was taken to Texas to do treacherous clean-up work. He gutted houses, removing toxic sludge with his bare hands. His work allowed families to come home.

Josue was denied the masks and respirators given to the American workers on the site. He was refused breaks, worked to exhaustion, and forced to sleep in a makeshift labor camp. In response, Josue acted in the proudest tradition of labor leaders in America: he led workers in a strike to demand their dignified working conditions. The employer’s response was to fire Josue and his fellow workers and evict them in the middle of the night without pay.

Retaliatory firings are illegal under the National Labor Relations Act. Josue should have been able to go to government agencies to report the abuse. Instead, he was greeted outside by police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. They detained Josue, and disappeared with him into the vast darkness of the post-hurricane landscape. He is now fighting removal, and his case has become a national flashpoint for the debate on ICE’s role in undercutting worker power.

Why does Josue’s story matter for American workers? Because across the nation, employers are exploiting immigrant workers — whether day laborers or formal guestworkers on H2A and H2B visas — in a way that undercuts struggling American workers even further.

When brave migrant workers like Josue try to assert their basic rights to full wages and safe, dignified conditions, employers conspire with ICE to turn immigration enforcement into a weapon. The result for U.S. workers is that job opportunities, wages, and working conditions decline every day. Because immigrant workers cannot organize to protest labor abuses, employers have a captive workforce that has no choice but to work for less at lower standards. In the race to the bottom, all workers lose.

Stories like Josue’s — and what they mean for American workers — are what inspired the Protect Our Workers from Exploitation and Retaliation Act, or POWER Act. Senator Robert Menendez re-introduced the bill to the Senate on June 14, and Reps. George Miller and Judy Chu introduced a parallel version in the House. The POWER Act protects the right of immigrant workers to hold employers accountable without fear of retaliation. It would provide temporary protection for immigrant victims of crime and labor retaliation so that employers who are guilty of labor violations may be held accountable. In the process, it would protect the security and dignity of work for American workers as well.

Workers across the country need the POWER Act. In New York, domestic workers face physical violence on their way to winning a domestic worker Bill of Rights. In California, day laborers fear deportation as they combat wage theft. The New York Times has revealed details of how ICE advised a major marine fabrication company on how to carry out illegal private deportations of metalworkers from India who organized to break up a labor trafficking chain.

Protected by the POWER Act, these workers and many thousands of others will be able to organize, without fear, to end the severe labor exploitation that marks our era. American workers would see wages rise, working conditions improve, and their own right to organize become more se. If the current race to the bottom is one we all lose, the fight to pass the POWER Act — the fight of Josue and his allies across America — is one where all workers win.

Sarita Gupta is executive director of Jobs with Justice. Saket Soni is executive director of the National Guestworker Alliance.

Follow Sarita Gupta on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@jwjnational

What the Government Should Be Verifying: Jobs, Training, and Safety

In America, we desperately need to address the hardships everyday people increasingly face. As Rep. Lamar Smith points out, unemployment rates in the U.S. have reached nearly 10%. Those who do have jobs increasingly face lower wages, longer hours, and less protections at the work site.

To address the challenges U.S. workers and the unemployed are facing, Washington has an unprecedented opportunity to invest in job creation, workplace safety, and training opportunities that would usher those excluded from the workforce into meaningful employment.

To raise the floor for struggling and working families, we need policies that grow our economy, ensure job security, and offer new opportunities. We don’t need more scapegoating.

Cosmetic Reforms to Dangerous Se Communities Program More Spin than Substance

Obama Administration dismisses evidence of Failed Deportation Program
(NYC, LA) In response to mounting criticism, the Obama Administration announced reforms to the “Se Communities” jail deportation program today. The reforms which acknowledges problematic and indiscriminate implementation fall short of the call for a moratorium on the program.
Revelations from a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in which the National Day Laborer Organizing Network is a plaintiff represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law Immigration clinic, have described Se Communities as a deportation program in disarray, with deleterious effects on community safety, and potentially resulting in grave civil rights violations.
In recent weeks, the debate around S-Comm has reached a peak with Illinois and New York terminating the program and Massachusetts pledging not to join in. As a bill to regulate and reinforce the voluntary nature of S-Comm, the TRUST Act, is expected to pass the California Senate soon, Los Angeles and Oakland both passed resolutions seeking out of the program. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi recently denounced S-Comm as “a waste of taxpayer money.” The Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus have both called for an outright moratorium on the program pending its review by an expedited Inspector General investigation set to begin in August, 2011.
The following is a statement from Pablo Alvarado, Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network:
“We are stunned by the inadequacy of this announcement. Reform before review not only puts the cart before the horse, it continues to take the country in the wrong direction. Given the inherent problems to the program and the continued secrecy in its implementation, S-Comm should be suspended immediately until the Office of the Inspector General can complete its report.
Any program meant to revolutionize our immigration systems should be implemented with deliberation, care, and consultation with impacted communities. The Se Communities program has failed to do that, and these so-called reforms are more of the same. One cannot name a program that makes us all less safe, “Se Communities.”
ICE has gotten into the snake oil business, and we’re not ing. You don’t put a collar on a snake and call it a pet. As long the federal government insists on inserting the fangs of ICE Access into local law enforcement, we’ll all be wounded by its poisonous effect.
ICE has become a rogue agency, and it cannot be tursted to reform itself. Do the reforms announced today protect the women who faced the double violation of being placed in deportation proceedings after calling for help when facing domestic violence? Do the reforms create an open and transparent government that corrects the dissembling and dishonest approach taken? Do the reforms set standards to prevent local prejudiced policing from resulting in racial profiling? What about Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona? Has his reign of terror- triggered by DHS- been brought to a halt? Hardly.
The Se Communities program is a Frankenstein. It doesn’t need make-up or cosmetic changes. It needs to be stopped immediately. The Latino community has come to view Se Communities as the symbol of President Obama’s broken promises on immigration reform. Cancellation of the program would help repair that trust and would be a step in the right direction. Anything less than suspension at this point is another symbol of the President’s approach to immigration: more spin than substance with disastrous consequences to our community.”
Chris Newman, Legal Director for NDLON, added, “Contrary to the administration’s claims, S-Comm undermines our shared goal of having a unified and reformed federal immigration policy. By delegating federal immigration authority into the hands of thousands of different state police, the federal government is gauranteeing the fragmentation of immigration enforcement. It is a force-muliplier for a broken status quo that has resulted in Arizona’s SB 1070 and copycat legislation. As a result of SCOMM, our immigration system begins to be shaped by potentially pernicious local policing patterns, and the long term unintended consequences to civil rights protections for immigrants are yet unknown.”
The National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) is a plaintiff in an on-going FOIA lawsuit against DHS/ICE for access to documents related to the Se Communities Program. NDLON plays a central role in California advocacy for the TRUST Act and coordinates the Turning the Tide campaign nationally.

Lamar Smith’s E-Verify Proposal Launches Backward Arizona Policies to National Level

Washington, DC. Rep. Lamar Smith added steam to the backward trend of Right-wing politics hijacking the political arena by introducing the overreaching e-verify bill that would mandate employer participation in the costly, inaccurate, and untested e-verify database.
The bill, a blend of Arizona’s anti-immigrant policies and Wisconsin’s anti-worker efforts, creates a toxic morass in Washington that would have devastating effects on the economy and is seen by many as a distraction to the real solutions Americans are seeking from Washington.
Pablo Alvarado, Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, stated, “It’s nearly criminal that Lamar Smith would hijack the cause of those suffering from joblessness for his extreme political ends when Washington has an actual opportunity to provide real solutions to the hardships everyday people are facing in America.
Smith has compiled the worst practices from Arizona’s immigration policy and Wisconsin’s recent approach to unions and somehow combined them into an immoral piece of legislative scapegoating.
The America I want to live is one that welcomes the newest members of our communities and creates opportunities for all of us to succeed. Lamar Smith would like to roll up the sentiments of welcome expressed by the Statue of Liberty and toss them and the unions along with them into the Hudson. E-verify’s result would be to sink the country into an even deeper economic crisis, one that none of us could afford.
In one fell swoop, Smith alienates immigrants, unions, and those with concerns over government programs encroaching on our privacy with his fortress USA style policy.
However, our efforts together will move the country forward toward a better America. Congress should be verifying that everyone has access to a dignified job and quality education, that those who immigrate here to provide for themselves and their families have a pathway to inclusion.
As a national network of day laborers, we’re proud of the partnership we made with the AFL-CIO in 2006 that recognized the humble workers, street corner day laborers, as key partners in the labor movement whose efforts make a rising tide to lift all boats in the country.
We will not allow Rep. Smith’s efforts divide us or turn us around.”…

Baltimore Opposes Se Communities, Adds Voice to Chorus Calling for Suspension of the Discredited Program

Baltimore, MD. Last night the Baltimore City Council adopted a resolutioncondemning the “Se Communities” program which entangles local police in federal immigration issues. The Council expressed concern for the of the cities newest residents and urged the Maryland’s Congressional delegation to support the demand of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus by calling for a suspension of the program pending an Inspector General review.
Pablo Alvarado, Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, applauded the resolution by saying, “The tide is turning on the dangerous, dishonest ‘se communities’ program. S-COMM was sold to the American public by DHS under false pretenses. The more we learn about the program, the more urgent it becomes to end it. It makes communities less safe, it imperils civil rights, and it is poisoning political efforts to reform unjust immigration laws. Yesterday, the Baltimore City Council took action to prevent the Arizonification of the community.
There is an urgent need to stop the harm being caused by the falsely named “Se Communities” and end to the program all together. Se Communities has become a symbol of President Obama’s broken promises on immigration reform. Ending it would be a concrete step to repair that trust, and it would be the first step on a path to immigration reform. ”
The resolution by the Baltimore City Council is part of a growing trend of local opposition to the coercive federal program. In the past month, Illinois and New York pulled out of the program while Massachusetts refused to join in. State legislation in California is being heard in the Senate today as calls for California’s Governor to suspend the program grow. Last Friday, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi described S-Comm as a “waste of taxpayer money.” For more background information, download http://ndlon.org/pdf/scommbrief.pdf
The National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) is a plaintiff in an on-going FOIA lawsuit against DHS/ICE for access to documents related to the Se Communities Program. NDLON plays a central role in California advocacy for the TRUST Act and coordinates the Turning the Tide campaign….

CA Senate committee to hear TRUST Act as Rep. Pelosi calls S-Comm “waste of taxpayer money”

What: The Senate Public Safety Committee is expected to hear AB 1081 (Ammiano), the TRUST Act, which would reform California’s participation in S-Comm, ensuring local governments’ ability to opt out of the deeply troubled program and setting basic standards for jurisdictions that do choose to participate.
When: Tuesday, June 14, 2011

  • Hearing begins at 9:30; TRUST Act may be heard any time during the hearing.
  • Interview availability at about 10:30 AM

Migration and labor centers

Migration and labor centers

By DONNA SHEARER | Originally Posted in PressDemocrat.com
Published: Thursday, June 9, 2011 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 9, 2011 at 11:58 p.m.

Migration and labor centers

Donna Shearer (credit: Press Democrat website)

Of all the ideas swirling around the public conversation about a potential day labor center for Petaluma, a crucial one is notably absent: The inevitability of demographic changes due to worldwide labor migrations.

The movement of people in search of food has been a normal aspect of life on the planet since the origins of humankind; but with the development of nation-states at the turn of the last century, the flow of people across international boundaries — regulated by visas and passports — is a relatively recent phenomenon. What makes this issue particularly problematic in the current era is a combination of events that are greatly accelerating the magnitude and pace of these migrations.

Globalization is one of these. The outsourcing of industry and labor to other countries not only negatively affects the wages and livelihoods of countless Americans, it also impacts the livelihoods of millions of people across the world. Farmers and small businesses who grow, process and distribute rice, beans or corn in Central or Latin America, for example, aren’t able to compete with a newly arrived Wal-Mart that can sell these commodities at far cheaper rates. The result can deprive already stressed local communities of the ability to make a living; shantytowns — where many lack employment and are malnourished — expand. A last resort then compels the well-known high-risk migrations to the United States in search of work, a story that is repeated a thousand-fold throughout the world.

But globalization is only the tip of this demographic iceberg. Refugees fleeing war and persecution feed the mix, as do corrupt governments, failing financial institutions and the unintended consequences of the industrial revolution (e.g. large deforestation projects that not infrequently leave droughts, flooding, soil erosion, and, increasingly, severe water shortages, in their wake).

It is not only the developing countries that have been experiencing these kinds of economic stresses. In the United States, a patchwork of distressed regions across the country (think Detroit) has prompted people to move to other regions in the country; and an increasing number of under-employed or unemployed Americans are currently looking for work across international borders — including Mexico — and not always with “papers.” In the end, as economic pressures on global communities mount, the eternal search for work as the primary means of survival places all of humanity in the same boat.

None of this has to mean these problems can’t be solved. Demographers (and others in the environmental and social sciences) believe there are ways of turning human migrations across the world into advantages for the countries impacted by them. Postwar Europe addressed the migrations of workers across borders by absorbing them into local communities, and providing legal protections for them. A few generations later, many of their descendants are today’s middle-class Europeans.

Randal Johnson, vice president of the immigration division of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, contends that immigration, including migrant workers from Central and Latin America, “… will continue to be an important labor force needed to replace the aging U.S. workforce” — a view that explains the Chamber’s position against penalizing migrant workers. (For details, see the United States Chamber of Commerce document: www.uschamber.com/immigrationmythsfacts.jpg).

In view of the larger demographic picture, day labor centers are extraordinarily modest adaptations to the inevitability of labor migrations worldwide. The day labor centers in both Healdsburg and Graton won the approval of a coalition of merchants, residents, police and civic leaders in part because of the remarkably low impact of these projects, and in part because of the obvious gain to their communities: Alleviating the loitering of workers near s and residences, the provision of minimum protections for the workers in the form of shelter from extreme weather, a fair hiring system that cuts down on worker exploitation and a bathroom.

Petaluma has little to lose and much to gain by supporting a day labor project in town.

(Donna Shearer is a Petaluma resident and an anthropologist with a background in international relations. World labor migrations are a recent interest.)

(Source: PressDemocrat.com)

Congresspeople Call on Governor Brown to Suspend Discredited Se Communities Program in California as Pelosi Calls Program Waste of Money

Los Angeles, CA. – Today Members of Congress held a press conference in Los Angeles to call for a suspension to the federal “Se Communities” jail deportation program that entangles local law enforcement in immigration issues. The program is considered widely discredited as a wave of cities and states including Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, and most recently Los Angeles have either ended their participation, refused to join, or have sought a way out of the program. The opposition stems from numerous reports of the program resulting in a chilling effect on community-police relations as people presumed innocent and even domestic violence survivors are caught in its dragnet. In addition to its community-level impact, Congresspeople and state officials are balking at systemic lying and dishonesty in the agency exposed by a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
The Congresspeople’s call for Governor Brown to suspend the program as other Democratic governors have done reflects the urgency of stemming its negative impact. California is already considering a bill, the TRUST Act, which passed its assembly and is awaiting a vote in the Senate which would regulate the program and reinforce its voluntary nature for localities.
Rep. Judy Chu stated, “The program as implemented has undermined our police department’s mission of protecting the public… I sincerely hope we suspend our state’s participation in the program.
“The fact there are so many unanswered questions is the reason why we need an inspector general report.” added Rep. Allard
Pablo Alvarado, Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, commented, “What started as an effort to uncover the truth about S-Comm has evolved into a consensus view that the program should be scrapped all together. S-Comm has come to symbolize the President’s broken promises on immigration reform. The fact is that it has not yet been frozen is now being viewed as a betrayal and places the urgent need to end the program on the desk of our local officials.
Our local officials were misled into the program and now is the time to lead us out. The tide is turning on the dangerous and dishonest ‘se communities’ program. ICE has gotten into the snake oil business. It sold S-COMM to the American public under false pretenses. It makes communities less safe, it imperils civil rights, and it is poisoning political efforts to reform unjust immigration laws.
Today, Rep. Becerra and the other Congresspeople said very clearly that this program has no place in California or anywhere in our democracy. We must prevent the Arizonification of our community whether it comes in the form of SB 1070 or s-comm. There is an urgent need for California to do better for its residents and to suspend s-comm immediately.”
Timeline of Recent S-Comm Activity:
* 06-10-2011 Rep Becerra and others hold Press Conference calling on Governor Jerry Brown to suspend S-Comm in California
* 06-10-2011 Nancy Pelosi critiques S-Comm as “waste of taxpayer dollars” http://bit.ly/scommpelosi
* 06-06-2011 Congressional Progressive Caucus sends letter to President Obama calling for moratorium on the program
* 06-06-2011 Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick refuses to join the program
* 06-01-2011 New York Governor Cuomo Suspends S-Comm in his state
* 05-05-2011 Congressional Hispanic Caucus sends letter to President Obama calling for moratorium on the program
* 05-03-2011 Illinois Governor Quinn terminates S-Comm Memorandum of Agreement with ICE in his state
* 04-25-2011 Rep. Lofgren calls for Inspector General Investigation into S-Comm
The National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) is a plaintiff in an on-going FOIA lawsuit against DHS/ICE for access to documents related to the Se Communities Program. NDLON plays a central role in California advocacy for the TRUST Act and coordinates the Turning the Tide campaign….