You are browsing the archive for immigrant.

How Sandy Clean-Up Brought Day Laborers Out of the Shadows

6:34 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

(El Centro de Immigrante)

Originally published at In These Times

When Sandy hit last October, the Northeast shoreline seemed to freeze: people were stranded in flooded homes, businesses shuttered, downtown Manhattan’s lights went eerily dark. But the paralysis wasn’t total—the area began buzzing immediately with invisible workers. The day after Sandy was just another day of honest work for the “casual” manual laborers who would spent months cleaning, gutting and rebuilding homes and businesses across the stricken area, often in grueling conditions with little protection from collapsing walls, toxic mold and other hazards.

A study published late last month by researchers with the City University of New York’s Baruch College reports that after Sandy, many of these day laborers—a workforce that is typically dominated by Latino immigrants and considered a “casual” or irregular part of the construction trade—were unnecessarily put in harm’s way amidst the haphazard recovery process.

Based on interviews with workers and advocacy groups in New York and surrounding areas, the researchers found that while demand for day laborers spiked post-Sandy, working conditions sank even lower than usual. Flooded areas were quickly awash in contractors and desperate homeowners seeking quick, cheap labor to fix their property damage, which led to a perfect storm of risks, ranging from injuries and toxic exposures to wage theft by crooked subcontractors.

The researchers note that many day labor sites belied major safety threats, such as “industrial cleanups involving warehouses that stored pharmaceuticals and in hospitals.” And in many cases, homeowners who informally hired day laborers for immediate clean-up did not understand the complex hazards involved with clean-up, demolition and rebuilding, leaving workers even more vulnerable. Read the rest of this entry →

Farmworkers Face Silent Spring in the Fields

5:30 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

(jetsandzepplins/Flickr/Creative Commons)

Some lawmakers in Washington may be losing sleep in the coming weeks as they mull over proposed immigration reform legislation. But many migrant children are haunted at night for a different reason—the quiet nightmare of noxious winds that fill their bedrooms with toxic fumes, a hidden chemical disaster looming over the fields where their parents work.

The promise of legalization through legislation won’t bring relief for those families, who toil on industrial farms and, with or without work authorization, labor every day in poisonous environments. Regulators and lawmakers have largely ignored these chemical hazards; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not updated its Worker Protection Standard for pesticide exposures in 20 years. So advocates for farmworkers have taken their struggle to court.

Pesticide Action Network of North AmericaUnited Farm Workers and other public health and worker organizations filed a petition on July 24 in the 9th Circuit federal appeals court in San Francisco to compel the EPA to enact new pesticide protections for children. The groups, represented by Farmworker Justice and Earthjustice, are specifically demanding regulations on pesticide “drift”: the toxins that waft from the crops to the kitchen tables and playgrounds of surrounding neighborhoods.

The petition, urging action on an earlier challenge filed in 2009, specifically demands that EPA evaluate pesticide drift risks and implement safeguards such as buffer zones “near homes, schools, parks and daycare centers, or wherever children congregate.” Studies have linked pesticide exposures to reproductive health and childhood development problems as well as cancer and respiratory ailments.

recent report by Farmworker Justice highlighted the experience of Graciela, a fern crop worker whose daughter was diagnosed with leukemia at 15—a condition Graciela attributes to the health risks the family faced when they went to the fields together:

In order to cut the ferns and get those nice long stems that we need, we have to put our faces practically down into them. I realize now how dangerous this is. We are breathing in those pesticides all day long, and how could they not cause us harm.

The current litigation focuses on the EPA’s failure to act on a 2006 congressional mandate to issue protections for children against pesticide drift. But the agency has a long track record of heel-dragging on many pesticide issues.

Due to a division in the regulatory structure, pesticide safety for farmworkers is governed by the EPA, rather than the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which regulates chemicals in other industrial workplaces. Under the current weak EPA standards, workers are generally offered only minimal safety information on pesticides. Moreover, with lax labeling requirements, workers often cannot read the English labels on pesticide products that state hazard precautions and instructions for safe handling decontamination. Earth Justice points out that the EPA’s standard “is far more lenient than OSHA rules,” revealing a structural inequity in the labor regulatory regime. Farmworker activists went to Washington in July to urge officials to enact measures such as requiring protective equipment and monitoring exposed workers’ health. Read the rest of this entry →

Farmworkers Dig Into the New ‘Blue Card’ Plan

1:03 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Originally posted at In These Times

A child rallies in support of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Tampa, Fla., highlighting undocumented farm workers' critical role in food production. (National Farm Worker Ministry / Flickr / Creative Commons)

Last week, immigrants’ rights groups finally got the papers they’ve been waiting for, an 844-page whopper of a bill that attempts to “fix” the immigration system by promising a little bit to everyone: businesses get workers, workers get jobs and millions of undocumented people get an opportunity to gain citizenship.

One section of the bill sums up the political calculus underlying the legislation: In the plan to overhaul the guestworker system on U.S. farms—the seedbed of the oldest and roughest forms of migrant labor—we can see the strained balance between the interests of profit and the interests of people in determining who gets to become “American.”

Under the current legislative proposal, undocumented farmworkers would receive a new kind of labor visa—called a “Blue Card”—which would enable them to work legally with certain minimum wage guarantees and federal entitlements, like workers’ compensation. These visas, capped at 112,000 annually (a fraction of the undocumented farmworker population of roughly 500,000 to 900,000) would also grant “portability” to workers—i.e., autonomy to switch employers so they’re not chained to a single workplace.

There are additional provisions to protect workers who report labor violations and to make it easier for them to qualify for immigration relief as victims of crime if they’ve been abused or exploited. International labor recruitment—the use of private “middle man” agencies to arrange work visas and job placements—would be more tightly regulated, closing some of the loopholes in the current system that allow recruiters to saddle migrants with exorbitant fees or tie them to abusive, unregulated employers. And the centerpiece of the plan is the “path to citizenship,” which would theoretically allow immigrant workers who are currently undocumented to “legalize.”

But the path to citizenship is fraught with some impossibly high hurdles: The process to gain permanent residency could take about 10 years (the bill provides a shorter timeframe for farmworkers, who are viewed as a special labor category because of their role in the food production system), and an even longer wait to officially naturalize. Activists fear that the various eligibility requirements, from background checks to heavy fees, may end up pricing hundreds of thousands of people out of a green card.

Daniel Sheehan, executive director of the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP), tells In These Times via email that the legalization process might prove prohibitively costly for farmworkers in particular. “Because they are often paid poverty wages and suffer wage theft and other abuses, they may not be able to pay high fines required to secure citizenship,” he says.

Additionally, labor activists note that even if they’re granted legal status, immigrants will continue to face draconian restrictions on public health care benefits, which bar access to Medicaid programs for their first several years of legal residency.

In other words, many migrant farmworkers would have a right to collect a paycheck but lack the right to basic medical care, even when their job gives them a repetitive stress injury or poisons them with pesticide sprays.

Read the rest of this entry →

$950,000 Win for NYC Workers Invigorates Supply-Chain-Justice Movement

9:45 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Tom Cat Bakery drivers address supporters during a march to protest threats against healthcare benefits. (Brandworkers.org)

Originally posted at In These Times

A lot of the heavy lifting in today’s labor movement is coming from an unexpected place: the warehouses and processing facilities that bridge the retail and wholesale markets. Alienated from traditional labor union structures, these more obscure links in the supply chain offer a new breeding ground for innovative rank-and-file mobilizing. The recent Wal-Mart warehouse strikesin California and Illinois showed how precarious low-wage workers organize on their own in defiance of temp bosses, the police, and the nation’s retail giant.

Meanwhile, in Queens, New York, landmark legal victory for warehouse workers and truck drivers at a local food distributor reveals the value of a more nimble-footed approach to empowering non-unionized workers.

Late last month, a federal judge ruled that distribution company Beverage Plus must pay a group of Latino workers about $950,000 in damages. The decision cited repeated and willful labor violations by the company, including denying overtime to employees who worked up to 12-hour days. Read the rest of this entry →

A Dream Deferred?

8:19 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Undocumented youth hold banner in support of the DREAM Act. (Edward Kimmel/Flickr)


Originally posted at In These Times.

This week the White House rolled out its “Deferred Action” policy, cracking open the door to legal status for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants without papers. Many see the promise of temporary protection from deportation as a first step toward genuine immigration reform. But the future is unclear: What exactly in it for these these youth, when all they’re being offered is temporary protection?

The Obama administration’s new policy, aimed at pleasing the Latino electorate, initially set off a flurry of celebration among immigrant youth activists who had long pushed for the DREAM Act. But skepticism persists. Legal protection derived from a directive from the Department of Homeland Security is, by nature, tenuous. The fate of the program could depend on who is in the White House next year. And unlike the DREAM Act, the Deferred Action policy allows people to work and study, but does not offer a direct path to long-term legalization.

On the other hand, Deferred Action offers some youth at least a modicum of security and could galvanize the broader movement to resist dysfunctional immigration policies.

Essentially, youth who came to the United States as children are now eligible for a two-year, renewable stay and a work permit, if they meet various criteria including  being 30 or younger, possessing a clean criminal record and having arrived before age 16. Read the rest of this entry →

Workplace Toxics Reveal the Beauty Industry’s Ugly Side

6:23 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Image: healthjusticenetwork.wordpress.com

Cross-posted from In These Times

You shouldn’t have to suffer to be beautiful. But many women suffer for the beauty of others, polishing nails and styling hair with a toxic palette of chemicals.

Working long hours amid noxious fumes, salon workers, typically women of color, are in constant contact with chemicals linked to various illnesses and reproductive health problems.

While environmental justice campaigns have historically focused on localized pollution issues, the National Healthy Nail & Beauty Salon Alliance organizes around the intersection of workplace environmental health and racial and economic justice. According to the Alliance’s analysis, the hazards endemic to the nail salon industry are stratified by ethnicity and gender: roughly four in ten workers are Asian immigrants, many of them of childbearing age, poor, uninsured and with limited English-speaking ability. And they are assaulted daily by invisible threats:

On a daily basis and often for long hours at a stretch, nail and beauty salon technicians – most of whom are women of reproductive age – handle solvents, glues, polishes, dyes, straightening solutions and other nail and beauty care products, containing a multitude of unregulated chemicals that are known or suspected to cause cancer, allergies, respiratory illnesses, neurological and reproductive harm. Read the rest of this entry →

Facing Common Struggles, Domestic Workers Mobilize Across Borders

4:19 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Caring Across Generations (National Domestic Workers Alliance)

Cross-posted from In These Times

The United States isn’t unique when it comes to political and social crises related to immigration. Migrants in other parts of the world face similar, sometimes much harsher struggles. Even those who are “legal” are often extremely vulnerable to economic exploitation, racial discrimination, and physical and sexual abuse. Abuse and enslavement of migrant and domestic workers from Asia and Africa has become epidemic in the Middle East.  In the wake of the suicide of an abused Ethiopian worker, Alem Dechasa-Desisa, whose story helped galvanize migrant rights campaigns, the issue has moved into the media spotlight lately:

Stories of migrants dying on the job or taking their own lives are not uncommon, underscoring how their lives can be undervalued once they’re swept into a “disposable” household workforce. Migrant women in particular struggle often with abusive employers and sexual harassment. Read the rest of this entry →

Cartoonist Sergio Hernández Depicts “Arizona’s Finest”

1:56 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Sergio Hernández

Cross-posted from CultureStrike.

Sergio Hernández is a California-based artist and cartoonist. This is his take on the latest goings-on in Arizona, where education and law enforcement authorities have formed an axis of xenophobia:

There has been a very aggressive move in Arizona by those in power to erase all Latino, Chicano, Mexican American culture from the state. This movement is cloaked under the guise of homeland security and border control. What is really happening is the destruction of fundamental rights of a population of people who are being demonized because of the color of their skin, culture and the language that they speak.

If Arpaio and Pedicone are successful, then where does it stop?

Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Superintendent of TUSD John Pedicone are the front men for a very unjust movement. This image depicts the real feelings of these evil men.

Read the rest of this entry →

Citing ‘Tradition,’ Big Ag Fights Reforms for Child Farmworkers

7:26 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

(Human Rights Watch, hrw.org)

Cross-posted from In These Times.

“[When I was 12] they gave me my first knife. Week after week I was cutting myself. Every week I had a new scar. My hands have a lot of stories.”

–17-year-old boy who started working at age 11 in Michigan (Human Rights Watch)

America’s farm workers have always had it tough, toiling for endless hours in the fields under brutal conditions. But those workers do benefit from a unique income subsidy in the country’s industrial farming system: children.

In every region of the country, bountiful harvests are regularly gathered by the tender hands of child poverty: several hundred thousand kids work on farms, often just to help their families survive. Those children who deliver crisp peppers and sweet grapes to the mouths of other kids every day represent the devastating social toll of the dysfunctional food industry.

The Child Labor Coalition, which advocates for the rights of exploited children around the world, documents a cornupcopia of abuses in the backyard of a global superpower:

•  More children die in agriculture than in any other industry.

•  According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), between 1995 and 2002, an estimated 907 youth died on American farms—that’s well over 100 preventable deaths of youth per year.

•  In 2011, 12 of the 16 children under the age of 16 who suffered fatal occupational injuries worked in crop production, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

•  When you include older children, more than half of all workers under age 18 who died from work-related injuries worked in crop production.

Advocates have for months been pressing the Labor Department to finalize a rule change that would help shield child farm workers from some of the most severe occupational hazards, such as handling pesticides and dangerous farm equipment, and would beef up protections for workers under age 16 (currently, children as young as 12 can legally work on farms, thanks to a loophole in federal labor law, and many younger ones have worked illegally, according to recent reports).

The reforms would largely impact youth in the migrant communities that fuel the agricultural labor force, filled with poor and Latino workers who are extremely vulnerable to abuse. Read the rest of this entry →

Migrants Struggle in the Shadows of Asia’s Rising Tide of Inequality

2:18 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Migrants in Libya (Photo: UN)

Cross-posted from In These Times

The much-hyped “emerging economies” of Asia are supposed to be moving up on the world stage, but the labor migration they’ve set in motion has put the poorest workers on a downward spiral. Wherever migrants clamor for jobs in “more developed” countries, social crisis often follows.

A recent protest in Singapore suggests that inequality and unrest simmer even in Asia’s most prosperous enclaves. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Bangladeshi construction workers organized an eight-hour sit-in to demand justice for an all-but-invisible workforce:

The low-wage migrant workers, who, like the much of the city-state’s construction force are from Bangladesh, gathered in a vacant field near their dormitories Monday in Tampines, a part of east Singapore. They were protesting against their employers, Singapore-based Sunway Concrete Products Pte. Ltd and Techcom Construction & Trading Pte. Ltd. Both companies are contracted by the government Housing Development Board to build homes across the island.

The workers said their employers had not paid their salaries for four months, since November last year, despite repeated requests for payment. Initial investigations carried out by officials from Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower confirmed that they had not been paid.

The workers also took issue with the food they were being served, which they said was inedible though paid from their own salaries, which are between S$2 – 2.50 (US$1.60 – $2) an hour, according to the workers.

Immigrants being cheated out of wages is a common story everywhere in the world (the U.S. included, of course), and lawmakers have little incentive to clamp down on unscrupulous employers when their economic growth figures are at stake. But Singapore might be more pressured to respond in this case because the labor dispute involves government contractors. Read the rest of this entry →