NDLON in the News

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Centers Help Day Laborers Get a Hand and Get Paid

By KARI LYDERSEN and BRIDGET O’SHEA | Aug 24, 2011 | Source: ChicagoNewsCoop.org

 

Centers Help Day Laborers Get a Hand and Get Paid

Day laborers talk with a potential employer at a gas station at Belmont and Milwaukee avenues at 8 a.m., July 25, 2011. Image Credit: Paul Beaty

Every morning, rain or shine, Miguel used to head for the corner of Belmont and Milwaukee avenues and wait at an informal gathering spot of day laborers near a BP gas station in hopes he would be hired to set tile, pour concrete or lay sod.After the job, sometimes he would be paid as promised but often he was not–a daily risk for the thousands of workers like Miguel who are hired off street corners by contractors or homeowners who need help with construction or landscaping.Today Miguel, 48, still makes a living doing temporary construction work. But instead of braving cold temperatures or stifling heat at a busy intersection, he meets employers at a storefront office of the Albany Park Workers Center at Bryn Mawr and Kimball avenues.

He starts each job with a contract spelling out his pay and working conditions that a lawyer at the center will help him enforce, if necessary.

“Here we have a roof over our head, we have coffee,” said Miguel who moved to Chicago from Mexico 16 years ago. “And a contract is signed so we know we will get paid.” Workers’ last names are withheld in this article because some are undocumented immigrants.

The Albany Park Workers Center is one of about 40 throughout the nation set up in an effort to reform the day labor industry. The center, which opened in 2004, was founded and is run by the Latino Union, a group created in 2000 by immigrant women working at temporary staffing agencies that grew into a larger workers rights and immigrants rights non-profit organization.

Some local business owners and residents oppose the workers centers, arguing they facilitate the hiring of people in the U.S. illegally and encourage illegal immigration. Laborers gathering on street corners also have caused local controversies, with some neighbors complaining they block traffic and sometimes make women passersby feel uncomfortable.

Without a workers center, undocumented laborers can be vulnerable to unscrupulous employers. A 2006 study by the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of California Los Angeles found that two thirds of day laborers surveyed in the Midwest, including Chicago, had not been paid wages due them in the past two months, and 27 percent had been threatened with violence by employers.

Nationally, almost half of the day laborers told researchers they had been denied food or water breaks and the vast majority reported being hurt on the job or left at faraway work sites without transportation home.

The Latino Union set up the storefront office in Albany Park to combat the abuses and convince day laborers at street corners around the city to get jobs through workers centers instead of on their own.

Eric Rodriguez, the Latino Union’s executive director, said most street corners have informal networks and leaders who typically agree on a base wage. At the corner of Milwaukee and Belmont, for example, he said it’s $12 an hour, higher than the $8.25 an hour Illinois minimum wage.

But he said it is difficult to enforce the agreements when someone drives up looking for workers and is surrounded by men jockeying for a job.

At a workers center, there’s little jostling or bargaining for work. The center’s staff doesn’t ask day laborers about their immigration status, although it is widely understood that many are undocumented. Patricio Ordonez, a former day laborer turned Albany Park job coordinator, uses a lottery system to assign men to jobs and then negotiates their contract.

“The current broken immigration laws give predatory employers an advantage,” said Chris Newman, legal director for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. Mr. Newman said undocumented immigrants are reluctant to speak up if employers abuse them, but workers centers and their lawyers are not.

Mr. Rodriguez often visits other street corners and passes out pamphlets on workers rights and safety. At the Albany Park center, day laborers can take advantage of English language classes and free works on construction skills such as plumbing and other topics. The center also hosts barbecues and soccer tournaments where workers from different street corners compete and then talk about improving working conditions for day laborers.

As it has for other occupations, the poor economy is hurting day laborers, who face increased competition for jobs, Mr. Rodriguez said.

And the anti-immigrant sentiment that often intensifies in hard economic times is evident in legislation being considered in the United States Congress. Representative Lamar Smith, Republican of Texas, has introduced a bill that would force workers centers to close or greatly alter their practices. The proposed Legal Workforce Act would mandate that all employers, including workers centers, use the government’s E-Verify electronic system to validate employees’ Social Security numbers.

Most legislative experts don’t expect the bill to become law, as it probably would not pass the Senate.

In assessing the intended impact of the bill, Tyler Moran, policy director for the National Immigration Law Center, said she didn’t think it would accomplish its goal of forcing day laborers to return to their native lands. “For the day laborers who are undocumented,” Ms. Moran said, “it’s not going to send them back home. It’s just going to move them from on-the-books to off-the-books.”

In other words, back to a street corner.

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Workin’ at the car wash

08.23.11 | Rebecca Bowe | Source: SFBG.com

Workin’ at the car wash Worker advocates with La Raza Centro Legal and the San Francisco Day Labor Program are partnering with city officials for a creative approach to addressing the pervasive issue of wage theft: A worker-owned car wash.

On Aug. 17, attorneys from La Raza joined with City Attorney Dennis Herrera to announce that a lawsuit had been filed against the owners of Tower Car Wash for longstanding labor law violations that resulted in workers earning less than minimum wage. The complaint, filed jointly with the city and La Raza, seeks to recover up to $3 million in compensation, penalties, and interest for the cheated workers.

The Tower Car Wash lawsuit, along with other high-profile complaints alleging wage theft that the city has filed against the owners of Dick Lee Pastry and Danny Ho, who allegedly cheated day laborers out of the money they were owed, would never have come to fruition if low-wage workers hadn’t come forward. Individuals like Tower Car Wash employee Rosa Ochoa, who’s involved with La Raza’s Colectiva de Mujeres, have publicly challenged their employers for labor violations, a tough stand in a state with exceptionally high unemployment in the midst of a recession.

“What we feel like is really important about this lawsuit is that for us, it’s about worker empowerment,” says Workers’ Rights Coordinating Attorney Kate Hegé of La Raza. “It wouldn’t be possible without these workers being able to come forward.”

The idea for a worker-owned car wash emerged out of a desire to advance the goal of worker empowerment, Hegé notes. With help from Sup. David Campos, interim Mayor Ed Lee, and pro bono assistance from the law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, La Raza and the San Francisco Day Labor Program hope to establish a regular car wash on weekdays in the city-owned lot on Bayshore and Alemany boulevards, the location of the Alemany Farmer’s Market and the Alemany Flea Market on Saturdays and Sundays.

“We’ve been working with the city for the past several months to start a green, worker-owned car wash cooperative where workers of the San Francisco Day Labor Program would not only administer it, but work and gain benefits,” Renee Saucedo, Community Empowerment Coordinator at La Raza, told the Guardian. “The main thing about this day labor car wash is that it’s going to be run by the workers themselves.”

The project comes on the heels of a broader local effort to improve protections for low-wage workers. Earlier this month, the Board of Supervisors approved the Wage Theft Prevention Ordinance, crafted in partnership with the Progressive Workers Alliance to strengthen the the city’s Office of Labor Standards & Enforcement.

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LAWRENCE: Learn to serve others, and enrichment will follow

By The Rev. Robert P. Lawrence | Source: The Herald News | Aug 19, find 2011

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
— Philippians 2:4

Several years ago, the executive of a steel company in Pittsburgh resigned his position and applied for work in a steel mill in another city. This one-time executive became a day laborer for the first time in his life. Some of his friends who knew what he had done thought his actions were very strange. Some saw his decision as a stunt. Others thought he was out of his mind.

But his decision to move from management to laborer was very deliberate. Working six months side-by-side with other laborers, the one-time executive gained a viewpoint of the workers’ problems from a new and entirely different perspective. This man, who spent summers in Westport, became a recognized authority in management-labor relations as he was fulfilling Paul’s statement that we should learn to see matters from other people’s points of view.

This lesson applies not only to business and industry, but to community and family relationships as well.

If a family or a community becomes dysfunctional, we can find the cause generally in a breakdown of relationships. If there is any one reason for a person to feel isolated, divorced or separated, we can find the cause as a feeling of being unimportant. One of the stronger human needs that every person requires for a happy relationship in the work force, a happy marriage or in academia is that of feeling important.

A person merely watching the clock on the job; a spouse who is taken for granted for what is expected or a student wanting a grade of 72 when a 70 is passing is a person who fails to see their role as being important enough to make a difference.

We live in a sociological, psychological and spiritual milieu where everybody is a somebody and relationships may always remain fractured when the interests of theirs are ignored.

One of the great losses in family life is the disregard for that time when families gathered for the family dinner and each family member was provided with the opportunity to share the moments of the day, both good and bad. What the member experienced was not only the time to unload their joys and high moments as well as their hurts and disappointments, but also the satisfaction that someone was interested enough to listen.

What better way to communicate our love for someone than to trust that person with our feelings, from which the listener wants the best for us. Not only is our text sound spiritual counsel, but it also points the way to healthy satisfactions for a life well-lived.

We all have had the experience of being in a relationship where the conversation is all one way. We are told that a person all wrapped up in themselves is a very small package. Nothing is more frustrating than to relate with someone with strong narcissistic needs.

Most every situation one can imagine receives either a healthy or neurotic need.

Eating is obviously healthy for nutrition of the human body. But think of the neurotic needs one has for junk food that creates obesity.

Love is obviously a healthy experience for the human condition. But think of those neurotic needs to manipulate or control others in the name of love.

Work is obviously a healthy expression of our creativity. But think of those neurotic times used as avoidance from family responsibilities.

When neurotic, we think only of our own needs. As Paul suggests, when healthy, we think of others.

When we consider the needs of others and make people feel good about themselves, it is amazing that the response is often the recipient giving back many times over what they have received. The Master had insight on this point by saying “to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

We all have two kinds of relationships: intrapsychic, when we think only of ourselves; and interpersonal, where we think of others. Paul made it clear that the egos of most people care for themselves, but the healthy self with a good self-image will consider the needs of others.

There is a wonderful message from American Indians that reads: “Don’t judge a person until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.” Therapy and counseling are most effective not by telling someone what to do, but when a troubled person is brought to that point when he sees he has value and worth that motivate a healthier style of life.

The author sir Alexander Peterson agrees with our text today when he writes: “Make us masters of ourselves that we may be the servants of others.” It is amazing how enriched one’s life becomes when they serve the needs of others.

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Hispanic Center Helps Workers Get Paid

There are many reasons employers don’t pay up, and people who don’t get paid can get help.

By Christine Rose | Source: Danbury.patch.com

Hispanic Center Helps Workers Get Paid

Executive Director Ingrid Alvarez-Dimarzo Credit Christine Rose

The current economic climate is hot for workers who aren’t getting paid for the hours they work, and this is as true for employees of large corporations as it is for the day laborers on Kennedy Avenue.

While undocumented residents may fear they have less rights to go after deadbeat employers, there are remedies for anyone who is not getting to paid to recoup their wages.

Police Capt Thomas Wendel said he doesn’t doubt that immigrant workers may be suffering lost wages by unscrupulous employers, but Executive Director Ingrid Alvarez-Dimarzo said, “In this time of economic hardship, it’s a problem that effects everyone.”

Gary Pechie from the state Department of Labor’s Wages and Workplace Standards agrees with both Wendel and Alvarez-Dimarzo. He says that he has worked with the department since 1977 and he has never seen it this bad.

The Hispanic Center is reporting that as many as ten people a day are coming in for help. Pechie says that in the 1970s the Department of Labor received about twenty complaints a year, and now they are receiving as many as twenty a day.

“It isn’t just blue collar workers, either. It’s the white collar people, management, who hold on hoping things will smooth over, and go quite a while without getting paid,” Pechie said.

When a business is failing, both employee and employer often ignore reality.  Employees who continue to show up for work may find that things will not improve, while hoping that if they work this week, the boss will pay them for last week. Yet, their optimisim does not always pay off, and workers are complaining across the state, they aren’t getting paid.

Besides the economy, there are many other reasons for employers don’t pay. Sometimes the boss and the worker disagree about how much is owed and neither will settle except for what they believe is owed. In these cases, the labor department will investigate the claims to determine the actual amount owed.

Companies that are struggling sometimes withhold federal taxes and don’t pay them. In other cases, companies neglect to pay unemployment insurance. Under those circumstances, both the company and the worker could suffer.

Pechie said that not paying back pay is a Class D felony and could result in jail time, but that employers shouldn’t be afraid to come forward for help.

“We will call their bosses, file the reports,” said Leslie Leon, Intake Spet at the Hispanic Center.  ”We have people coming in who speak Brazilian, Portuguese, Spanish; all ethnicities are having a problem these days.”

The Hispanic Center has developed clinics to help both businesses and employees understand the options available to help them escape a never-ending cycle of non-payment of employees and taxes.

“Many small business owners have been deducting taxes that were never paid to the IRS. That money was supposed to be used for unemployment insurance. Those businesses might fear the consequences and avoid our calls. But they should know that we can help them,” said Alvarez-Dimarzo.

The Center arranges payment plans with the IRS to help workers get paid and for businesses to pay their back taxes. According to Alvarez-Dimarzo, ”As long as they come forward and there is a plan, we can help them work it out.”

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Administration Announcement Falls Short

In Response to the announcement made by Senior Officials that DHS would review its caseload of 300,000 currently in deportation proceedings, Chris Newman, Legal Director for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, issued this statement:
“The administration has earned the President the title of ‘Deporter-in-Chief.’ We hope the statement today announcing review of the current caseload of victims of indiscriminate enforcement is carried forth. However, we have heard elegant statements of priorities before, and the problem is that those announcements have been belied the administration’s actions.
In order to fulfill its promises, the Obama administration must end policies like Se Communities that result in the criminalization of innocent immigrants who are Americans in Waiting like those who came before them. To date, the administration has pursued policies that are sowing and fear and devastation among immigrant communities, and it must reverse course to stop the Arizonification of the country.” …

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U.S. Forced to Release New “Embarrassing” Documents On Controversial Se Communities Program

Judge to Hold Hearing Today as Government Tries to Withhold More Documents

New York – In the wake of protests and civil disobedience in Chicago yesterday and across the country criticizing the Obama administration’s Se Communities program, immigrant advocates called on the government to turn over remaining documents about the program sought in a Freedom of Information lawsuit and to halt the controversial program.
A batch of unredacted documents released by court order this week, which federal district court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin called “embarrassing,” included acknowledgement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attorneys that they would have to “rewrite” memos on whether the program is mandatory for states and localities and revealed schisms between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on the right of states and localities to opt out of the program. In her order, Judge Scheindlin chided the agencies for going “out of their way to mislead the public about Se Communities,” and pointedly stated that the “purpose of the [Freedom of Information Act] is to shed light on the operation of government, not shield it from embarrassment.”
The judge has not yet ruled on whether the government must release other documents relating to the legal authority to make Se Communities mandatory. Strikingly, the government continues to attempt to withhold documents that shed light on that policy. ICE will be back in court today arguing it should be able to keep secret documents relating to the agency’s purported legal basis to impose S-Comm on unwilling states like Massachusetts, Illinois and New York.
The documents are being sought in a Freedom of Information lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Immigration Justice Clinic of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law with the law firm of Mayer Brown LLP on behalf of the National Day Laborer Organization Network.
One previously redacted email chain of over 100 pages shows the director of Se Communities, David Venturella, dodging questions from Margo Schlanger, an important official from the Department of Homeland Security Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (OCRCL). When ordering release of this document, Judge Scheindlin observed that the exchange showed “clearly obfuscating” and “non-responsive” answers from ICE in response to a request for clarification from OCRCL about Se Communities policy. DHS000196-000317.
Another email chain from July 2010 discussing a draft response to Representative Zoe Lofgren’s letter requesting clarification on the agency’s opt-out policy indicates that the FBI was considering an opt-out option. The FBI had concerns that if no opt-out was allowed, states might consider not sending fingerprints to the FBI for other purposes. The email notes that “moving away from the mandatory stance” would require “S1” (Secretary Napolitano) and AG approval. ICE FOIA 10-2674.0002039.
The back-and-forth and deception was clearly frustrating to ICE officials. In an angry email dated August 6, 2010, a Se Communities employee comments: “We never address whether or not it is mandatory – the answer is written to sound like it is but doesn’t state it. It’s very convoluted – or is that the point? I’m all about shades of grey but this really is a black and white question…Is it mandatory? Yes or No. Ok, so not such an easy question to answer.” ICE FOIA 10-2674.0011165-ICE FOIA 10-2674.11171.
Commenting on the documents, Sunita Patel, staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights said, “The previously redacted portions of these documents—now public for the first time—reveal the extent of ICE’s deceit and political game-playing in its communications with states and localities. Perhaps more disconcerting, though, is the confusion and flip-flopping within the agency about their own policies and plans for deployment of such a high-impact and unprecedented program.”
Added Bridget Kessler, an attorney with the Cardozo Immigration Justice Clinic, “These newly unredacted documents signal that the fight is not over yet. ICE’s purportedly ‘mandatory’ S-Comm policy appears to lack a sound legal basis, and is certainly misguided and confused as a matter of policy. Massachusetts, New York and Illinois should continue to push the federal government to honor their rejection of S-Comm.”
Sarahi Uribe, national organizer for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network said, “Even as they moved full-speed-ahead with deploying this program across the nation, at times top-level agency officials didn’t seem to fully understand—or disagreed about—how the program would work. Everywhere around the country people are resisting—there have been walkouts and arrests during S-Comm hearings, rallies, and thousands of petition signatures delivered to President Obama. The time has come. It’s time to halt S-Comm.”
The groups said they will continue to litigate this case to obtain the full information about S-Comm that the public is entitled to.
Visit CCR’s NDLON v. ICE case page or the joint website, UncovertheTruth.org, for an index of the newly released documents, the text of the FOIA request, the lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York and all other relevant documents.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. Visit www.ccrjustice.org.
The mission of the National Day Laborer Organization Network is to improve the lives of day laborers in the U.S. by unifying and strengthening its member organizations to be more strategic and effective in their efforts to develop leadership, mobilize day laborers in order to protect and expand their civil, labor and human rights. Visit www.ndlon.org.
The Immigration Justice Clinic of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law was founded in 2008 to provide quality pro bono legal representation to indigent immigrants facing deportation. Under the supervision of experienced practitioners, law students in the Clinic represent individuals facing deportation and community-based organizations in public advocacy, media and litigation projects. Visit www.cardozo.yu.edu.

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