LatinaLista — One of the arguments for reforming immigration and recognizing the people who, though living illegally in this country are working, is to bring them out of the shadows where unscrupulous employers take advantage of them on a continual basis.
This Labor Day, it’s only fitting that we remember those employees who are not covered by health insurance, forced to work long hours at below market wages or whose wages are illegally kept from them, are not afforded the basic rights of bathroom or lunch breaks and work the dangerous, high-risk, health-risk jobs.
To the public’s credit, when situations become widely known of abuse or neglect on the part of employers, there is swift and punitive action.
Maybe that’s why the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries report a slight decline in workplace fatalities between 2007 and 2008.
Nationwide, there were 5,071 fatal work injuries in 2008, a decrease of 20 percent from the revised total of 5,657 in 2007.
Unfortunately, the story isn’t the same for Latino workers whose occupational fatality rate has remained the highest in the nation for 15 years, according to a new study, Fractures in the Foundation: The Latino Workers Experience in an era of Declining Job Quality, by the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).
What’s even worse is that there are still employers who are abusing their immigrant workers — and have the audacity to think they can get away with it — and do!
The NCLR report put into black and white what has long been a known reality in Latino communities:
- Two in five Latino workers do not earn sufficient wages to keep their families out of poverty.
- Millions of workers are excluded from basic protections simply based on the kind of work they do due to antiquated labor laws.
- In 2007, just over half (52.3%) of employed Latinos had health insurance through their employers, compared to 72.6% of White and 67.1% of Black workers.
But what is even more appalling is that employers treat their workers any way they want with little fear of being prosecuted.
- Many employers evade their legal responsibility to pay their workers and keep their work sites safe.
- Some employers legally sidestep accountability for their workers’ well-being.
- For employers who break the law, the chances of getting caught are slim and the penalties are low. Many employers have come to treat compliance with labor laws as optional and fines for noncompliance as merely a cost of doing business.
That could explain why exploitation of immigrant labor seems to be rampant in some corners of the country and in some industries.
It’s ironic that everyone remembers the anniversary of Katrina yet hardly anyone remembers that the workers, mainly Latinos, who came in after the catastrophe to help clean up the Big Easy didn’t and still don’t have it easy when it comes to collecting back wages.
A survey conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center revealed that eight in ten Latino workers in New Orleans reported being robbed by their employers.
New Orleans isn’t the only place.
A group of immigrant laborers who worked for a Las Vegas cleaning contractor told authorities how their bosses made them work 13-hour days, seven days a week cleaning such fancy Las Vegas hotels as the Luxor without even being able to take a single break. Though the workers were promised $1300, they were only paid $4.40/hr
In Nashville, six Salvadorans and three Peruvians found out the hard way that even being in the country legally didn’t mean some employers respected immigrant labor.
The immigrants – from El Salvador and Peru – say they were charged “recruitment fees” of $2,500 t0 $4,000; put to work stripping hazardous asbestos and lead for less money than promised; charged rent to sleep on floors, six or seven to an apartment; and forced to pay for “training.”
Cumberland Environmental Resources Co., of Nashville, and Accent Personnel Services, of Baton Rouge, falsified documents to get the visas, and discriminated against U.S. citizens, who are more difficult to abuse and exploit, according to the complaint.
The immigrants said they were promised construction and general labor jobs, but were made to work with hazardous asbestos and lead, and forced to pay for “classes” in asbestos and lead removal through payroll deductions.
They say they were forced to wait for weeks before being put to work, were not paid “in compliance with federal law,” and were fired if they protested about any of it.
The immigrant workers, along with five American workers, are suing the company. The American workers are suing because they say the companies lied about not having available American labor to do the job and only wanted the immigrant labor for wage exploitation.
And then there’s the farmers.
Life as a fruit or vegetable picker has long been known to be a hard life and made unbearable by those farmers who are only fixated on baskets of quotas and have little respect for their workers who must toil in the hot sun.
Because of this low respect for human life, men and women have died in the fields picking this nation’s foods because the farmers did little to help their workers cope with the heat.
Now comes news of the latest atrocity practiced by a farmer towards his workers.
Giumarra–the world’s largest table grape company that employs close to 3,500 grape workers, who has been found guilty in the past of intimidating, exploiting and endangering their workers has found a new way to bully their workers.
Giumarra has another way of forcing workers to reach unrealistic quotas and to intimidate workers. It’s a version of the “time outs” you do to a little kid when they are naughty. Giumarra is the only grape grower who uses this humiliating public method of punishment.
A worker does not pick fast enough or dares to question a supervisor? They get an unpaid, “time out” where they need to sit and wait until the supervisor says they can go back to work.
In an occupation where labor literally translates into dollars, such a “time out” tactic is a form of retaliation against workers and illustrates how some of these farmers/companies have so little value for their workers.
The troubling aspect is that these companies/people that exploit immigrant labor feel above the law, or at the least out of its reach.
The grape workers have filed charges against the company and as was expected, Giumarra management is already retaliating. Friends of the workers are asking people to email Giumarra and demand they treat their workers with respect and dignity.
Yet, no petition or mass email campaign will have the same kind of impact as stronger laws to punitively punish those companies that knowingly exploit people for their labor – regardless of their legal status.
As the Fair Labor Standards Act outlines: A worker is a worker and the aggrieved have a right to sue.
Both the employers and the illegals are guilty here. I don’t feel sorry for either of them. Put he employers in prisoon and deport the illegal workers. Mandate e-verify in the workplace and that would solve the entire problem. But of course the pro-illegals don’t want e-verify so there is no sob story that they could post about them that would even begin to make me feel sorry for them. They knew what they were doing when they crossed our border illegally.
This is a very important report that confirms that the exploitation and abuse we know our friends to be suffering is widespread thoughout the nation, in most sectors of business. It is the way in which businesspeople who lack good ideas can still make a lot of money: by robbing and abusing workers.
As you point out, this happens not only to workers without visas, but also to immigrants who have visas that entitle them to work. If these employers could find Americans who could not defend themselves against non-payment of wages and violations of safety regulations, they would subject Americans to these practices too.
Enforcement – that’s what the Obama administration keeps talking about with respect to immigration. Enforcement – a concept beloved by Secretary Napolitano and by Senator Schumer. Enforcement – a word that Chief of Staff Emanuel loves to roll off his tongue.
What about enforcing labor law first of all? What about enforcing the minimum wage and safety regulations? What about enforcing overtime and the basic idea that no worker’s wages can be stolen?
Instead of enforcing unjust immigration laws, the Obama administration could decide to enforce some very basic laws and regulations which ensure a mere minimum of protection of workers. If they did that, abuses against Americans, documented and undocumented workers would stop. The special advantage of employing undocumented workers for the most ruthless employers would stop. Let’s get some enforcement – of basic rights for the hardest working people in the country.
When will I hear Secretary Napolitano calling for Homeland Security for workers?
Laura, what is unjust about our immmigration laws? Are they unjust because there are more immigrants that want to come here than we can accomodate? Is that what you call unjust?
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