NDLON in the News

Subheading phrase goes here.

Stiffing Working Stiffs

June 22nd, health 2011 | NATHAN GILLES | Source: Wweek.com

Lawmakers could have acted to shield day laborers from bosses who cheat them out of wages. Instead they turned their backs.

Stiffing Working Stiffs

JOB SEEKERS: The day laborers’ lot at the Voz Workers’ Rights Project on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. – IMAGE: Darryl James

Antonio Sanchez says he worked long hours for Enrique Hernandez in June 2009.

Sanchez had been standing on the corner of Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. and Lloyd boulevards, order hoping for a day laborer’s job, when a man drove up and said his boss needed help. The driver took Sanchez to a site where Hernandez’s company, Henry’s Quality Underlayment, was ripping out carpet and putting down vinyl flooring.

Sanchez says Hernandez agreed to pay him $10 an hour, and that he worked long days—without lunch breaks—for four weeks at houses in Portland and Clatskanie. He says he was never paid $1,700 Hernandez owed him.

Stiffing Working Stiffs

D. MICHAEL DALE OF THE NORTHWEST WORKERS’ JUSTICE PROJECT Credits: Darryl James

Hernandez claimed Sanchez never worked for him. It was the driver who brought Sanchez to the site, he said, who had hired Sanchez. He didn’t owe Sanchez a dime.

“That’s when I decided to sue,” Sanchez says.

Sanchez says he was the victim of wage theft—when employers cheat their workers out of their pay. It’s a particularly big problem for immigrants and workers who take short-term jobs and often move from one employer to the next.

Wage theft can take many forms, from minimum-wage violations to cases like Sanchez’s, in which workers are promised money from employers who never deliver. A 2009 study by the National Employment Law Project, focusing on New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, found 1.1 million low-wage workers had been victims of wage theft, losing an average of about $2,600 from a $17,600 annual income.

In Oregon, the state Bureau of Labor and Industries, or BOLI, receives roughly 2,800 claims of wage theft each year.

Since 2000, the bureau has helped employees get back approximately $17 million in lost income.

But that’s little comfort for people like Sanchez.

“What happens in a typical case of wage theft is nothing,” says D. Michael Dale from the Northwest Workers’ Justice Project, a nonprofit legal service that helps immigrant workers fight wage theft. “It’s a huge problem. We are talking about millions of dollars of unpaid wages in the state of Oregon.”

Lawmakers had the chance to address the problem with five bills proposed by Dale’s group. But they caved in to business lobbyists. Democrats, after making a fainthearted effort to help workers, ditched the bills.

One measure, SB 611, would have helped workers like Sanchez by defining the employer-employee relationship, particularly for farm-labor and construction contractors. The bill died in committee after what Dale says was heavy lobbying from business groups.

“[SB 611] was just a very broad, far-reaching piece of legislation that would tremendously impact [the construction] industry,” said Jan Meekcoms, a lobbyist for the National Federation of Independent Business, who testified against the measure. She called Dale’s bills “extreme.”

The bill died. But another measure that would help people caught in Sanchez’s situation passed the Senate.

Hernandez, whose company did the work, claims he never met Sanchez. “I didn’t negotiate any wages when he started the job,” Hernandez tells WW. Instead, he says, the driver who picked up Sanchez, a man named Javier Galvans, should have paid Sanchez’s wages.

“I did not discuss wages, hours or other working conditions with Javier, rather only with [Hernandez],” Sanchez wrote in a Construction Contractors Board complaint.

SB 612 would have blocked employers from passing their responsibility to pay workers onto others. The measure requires day-labor drivers such as Galvans to register with BOLI as construction labor contractors. Bosses who get workers from unlicensed labor brokers would be on the hook for wages and civil fines.

The Senate passed the bill May 5 in a party-line vote of 16-13. Sen. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Northwest Portland), the bill’s carrier, said the measure would have “help[ed] to ensure workers receive the wages they are owed in an industry in which this has become a particular concern.” Republicans offered a different proposal that wouldn’t have made the contractor liable for the wages.

After that, the bill was orphaned in the House, where an even split between Republicans and Democrats means no bill gets a hearing without both parties’ agreement.

Since then, Bonamici says, she hasn’t pushed the matter any further. “I spoke on the bill because I was asked to carry it,” she says.

Dale says he hopes to build more support for his group’s measures in the 2012 session.

Meanwhile, Sanchez says he struggled to get by after he was denied his wages, and that his wife had to borrow money to pay bills. Last fall—more than a year after Sanchez did the work—the state contractors’ board worked out a settlement: Hernandez agreed to pay $1,000 of the $1,700 Sanchez says he was owed. Hernandez admitted no wrongdoing.

“I suffered a lot,” Sanchez says, “because he did not pay me what he told me he would pay me.”

Details

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

Details

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.

Details

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.

Details