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Latina Lista: News from the Latinx perspective > Palabra Final > Economy > Expert Says Not Just Any Kind of Guest Worker Program Will Work

Expert Says Not Just Any Kind of Guest Worker Program Will Work

LatinaLista — During his stop in Mexico, the last leg of his The-US-Wants-to-be-Your-Friend Latin American trip, President Bush made it clear that there would not be any amnesty granted to the undocumented who are in the United States, but rather what he likes to call a “path to citizenship.”


President Bush with Mexican President Felipe Calderon
(Source: whitehouse.gov)

Maybe he’s juggling semantics so as to throw any critics of amnesty off his tail but in the end, whichever term is used to refer to it, the only way to realistically deal with the millions of people who are undocumented is to grant them amnesty.

There’s also been a lot of talk about creating a guest worker program. In most minds in the Latino community, the guest worker program was always seen as something separate from recognizing the undocumented who are already here.

Evidently, though, others are seeing the guest worker program to mean how the current undocumented would be classified and allowed to stay here.

In that vein, an excellent article was written by Amy Traub, associate director of research at the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy.

In the column, Guest-Worker Caste System, Traub argues that a guest worker system applied to the undocumented is a bad idea because it further cements and institutionalizes the second-tier status of the undocumented in society, and actually serves as a detriment to middle class America.


Amy Traub
(Source: Drum Major Institute)

Traub argues that a guest worker program, without the proper safeguards, still exploits the undocumented and, in turn, affects middle class workers because the undocumented will (be forced to) accept lower wages and sub-standard working conditions which impacts the broader scope of job quality for the entire US workforce.

How can we preserve immigrants’ vital contribution to our economy while also preventing their workplace vulnerability from undermining American wages and working conditions? The answer is to strengthen the ability of immigrant workers to demand a better deal at work, claiming the same wages and working conditions that similarly-skilled natives command, and in the process ensuring that employers don’t prefer immigrants simply because they are more exploitable. A guest worker program, which permanently isolates a class of workers in a separate and unequal program, cannot do this. — Amy Traub

I agree with Amy that any kind of guest worker program certainly runs this risk of making it bad for everyone. Yet, giving the undocumented the power to negotiate and demand better working conditions isn’t exactly foolproof either.

Just last night, my inbox was flooded with emails about the firings of two LAX Hilton employees who had fasted for a living wage. One of those fired was housekeeper Alicia Melgarejo.

Alicia Melgarejo has worked as a housekeeper at the LAX Hilton for almost eight years. She is a single mother who supports her 14 year old daughter on a single income. Despite a clean work record and the fact that she has never been disciplined in her eight years at the hotel she was fired after management accused her of stealing towels.

Alicia vehemently denies these accusations and asked management to show her the video they claim to have of her stealing, but despite her request management refused to show her any proof. Now that she has been fired from her job as a housekeeper at the LAX Hilton she worries about providing for her teenage daughter. “I have been a good employee at this hotel for many years, and have a clean work record and have never been disciplined in the past. That they would fire me for something I didn’t do, even though I have given years of my life to making this hotel successful is not right. Now I don’t know how I am going to provide for my daughter,” said Alicia Melgarejo. — Unite Here press release

According to Union organizers, firings by employers is a common tactic where employees are trying to organize themselves.

So, while I agree in the spirit of what Amy Traub is saying I think there has to be another way to deal with the immigrant labor that is already here and the labor that still wants to come and will come in the future.

The Latina Lista Solution: Grant citizenship to everyone who has been here for at least 2 years or longer.

Implement a guest worker program but one that involves an arrangement where businesses that want to employ migrant labor and will comply with predetermined criteria must register to be on the list.

These businesses must coordinate certain times of the year when they will hire and they should conduct “hiring fairs” preferably south of the border.

Every business should be given a quota of workers they can hire and with each new hire, that person should be listed in a guest worker database.

Businesses should be responsible for transporting and housing their workers. Government reviews, aided by local community groups, should oversee that the businesses are in compliance with their guest worker contracts.

As a way to monitor and ensure that no worker is being exploited, each worker should have an unique bank account in his/her own name with automatic deposit. In reviewing business compliance, banks can monitor to see that workers are being paid what businesses agreed to pay them.

Length of employment should not exceed 6 months. If a worker does decide he/she wants to become a citizen, then they have to follow normal procedure back in their home country.

Of course, a lot more thought needs to go into any kind of guest worker program but it has to be a program that ensures that future migrant workers won’t be exploited for their labor or be able to slip through the cracks to begin another wave of an undocumented population.

At the same time, there needs to be an encouragement of these same workers to use the skills and knowledge they learn here to take back and implement in their home communities.

The idea of a guest worker program is to give these workers a dignity they don’t have in their home country or this one – yet.

But with an honest effort from the business community and Congress, there’s no reason why they can’t retain their dignity while supplying us with the labor that is needed.

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