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Court Strikes Local-Level Deportation Enforcement, Helping Immigrant Families

8:00 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Sheila Bapat for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Police Raid

A new ruling changes local enforcement of immigration.

On August 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that local police do not have the power to enforce deportation orders without explicit instruction from federal authorities. In the decision, Judge James A. Wynn wrote that “absent express direction or authorization by federal officials, state and local law enforcement officers may not detain or arrest an individual solely based on known or suspected civil violations of federal immigration law.” The ruling helps clarify the Supreme Court’s vague decision in Arizona v. United States last year about local discretion in enforcing immigration orders.

The civil rights ramifications of the Fourth Circuit’s ruling are clear. Less obvious are the economic consequences for immigrant families who fall within the Fourth Circuit’s jurisdiction, and whose livelihoods can now less capriciously be upended by local police.

As the Center for American Progress pointed out in a 2012 report:

The economic fallout of a deportation is perhaps the most significant of the long term consequences of immigration enforcement. … Prior to a detention or deportation, [many immigrant] families constitute a class of low-wage workers. With a detention or deportation, families slip easily into poverty. For families experiencing a detention or deportation, household income drops drastically from one day to the next, which is a shock for families already getting by on low wages.

The plaintiff in the Fourth Circuit case is Roxana Santos, a Salvadoran dishwasher at a Maryland food co-op. In the fall of 2008, Santos was approached by local police while she was on her lunch break at work. For 15 minutes the officers questioned her, looked at her Salvadoran identification, and then ran a background check, which revealed her outstanding deportation warrant per the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Santos was then jailed for the next 36 days, during which time she was separated from her 1-year-old son.

Her experience is not rare. “People in the community were sharing with us that they were being stopped and harassed,” said Enid Gonzalez, senior manager of Legal Services at Casa de Maryland, an immigrant rights and legal services organization based in Baltimore that aided Santos. The systemic seizures are believed to be at the behest of Sheriff Chuck Jenkins of Frederick County, Maryland, who, according to immigrant rights advocates, has been zealously enforcing deportation orders without federal direction.

While the Fourth Circuit’s decision does not explicitly mention Santos’ family or economic status, the implications are clear: She was an immigrant woman dishwasher sitting on a curb eating a sandwich when two armed officers approached, questioned, arrested, and jailed her.

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Why It’s So Hard to Sue Wal-Mart for Gender Discrimination

12:44 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Jessica Mason Pieklo for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Women protesting Walmart policies

Everyday low wages & sexism

It can take years for the effects of even the big Supreme Court decisions to really take hold. Consider the case of Wal-Mart v. Dukes two years ago, a decision that revoked class-action certification from what would have been one of the largest gender bias lawsuits of its kind. At the time, more than 1.5 million female Wal-Mart workers claimed the retailer unlawfully discriminated against them when it came to their pay and promotions, because of a corporate culture that enabled stereotyping of female workers. The Supreme Court rejected these claims, holding that the women didn’t have enough in common to justify hearing their claims against Wal-Mart together as one case.

Disappointed but undeterred, the women pressed on, determined to bring their claims even if they were narrower. But last week the plaintiffs suffered another setback as a federal judge in San Francisco dismissed a claim by 150,000 of the 1.5 million original plaintiffs on the grounds that while the new proposed class of plaintiffs is definitely smaller than the original class rejected by the Supreme Court, there still isn’t enough proof the women suffered similar treatment to justify hearing their claims all at once. Instead of seeking to press their claims on a nationwide class of workers at Wal-Mart’s 3,400 stores, as the original complaint against the retail giant did, the female workers had asserted that they represented about 150,000 employees in what is called the “California region” of the company—an area made up of three Wal-Mart geographic zones and 250 stores. This new class of plaintiffs sought to represent any female workers who had been on the company payroll between December 26, 1998, and December 31, 2002, and who were subject to pay scales based on hourly rates and on salary levels, and were eligible for promotion to management trainee or area manager.

But this smaller, regional approach was not enough to convince the federal courts to allow the claims to proceed. U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer, a Clinton appointee and brother of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, concluded:

[T]hough they have cut down the raw number of proposed class members significantly, Plaintiffs continue to challenge four different kinds of decisions across hundreds of decision makers, inviting failures of proof at multiple points in each region.

This new, smaller class “continues to suffer from the problems that foreclosed certification of the nationwide class.” Though the workers “insist that they have presented an entirely different case from the one the Supreme Court rejected, in fact it is essentially a scaled-down version of the same case with new labels on old arguments.”

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Behind the Runway: Modeling Might Not Be As Pretty As You Think

1:16 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Sheila Bapat for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

In 1990, supermodel Linda Evangelista famously said that she wouldn’t “wake up for less than $10,000 a day.” Her words have since been used to mock her mercilessly, and continue to influence public perception about what the lives of models are like: overpaid, overindulged, privileged product pushers. When New York Fashion Week took place earlier this month, with models sashaying in clothes too expensive for most people to buy, it was hard not to see past this perception.

So, it’s even harder for some of us to view models as “workers” in the way labor rights advocates understand the term, and complaints from models about, well, anything, may seem insufferable. How can someone whose physical appearance is validated by the culture and the mainstream economy possibly have it rough?

But Evangelista is far from representative of all models. This is a point The Model Alliance, a 501(c)3 nonprofit advocating for improving working standards for models, is trying to make clear. Like many sectors, we tend to see and hear about the most successful, elite few; the proverbial “one percent,” as Sara Ziff, a model of 15 years and founder of the Model Alliance points out. (She is also a graduate of Columbia University and a community organizer.)

Ziff educates both labor rights activists and the fashion industry about why working conditions for models need to improve. “Modeling seems like a privileged profession, so the general public attitude is not at all sympathetic [to organizing efforts],” she told RH Reality Check. “Most people have a hard time even understanding that it’s work.”

Since models are generally independent contractors, they are not covered by major labor laws and their organizing efforts aren’t necessarily protected. Ziff says many members of the Model Alliance join anonymously, so that their chances of getting work aren’t hindered.

Unlike actors, who can join the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) once they have fulfilled a certain amount of acting work, there is no union for models that offers health insurance and basic protections.

Yet working conditions indicate a need to organize. Even though modeling is one of the few sectors in which women out-earn men, the majority of women and girls in New York City trying to work as models are having a tough time making a buck. Between paying their agencies upwards of 20 percent of all their earnings, covering the costs of their lodging and transportation, and to pay their own rent, many models spend time working off debts they owe to their agencies.

And debt is hard to pay back when you’re not getting paid at all: often designers will pay models with clothes or other products instead of with a paycheck, something Marc Jacobs was criticized for last year. (He has since changed this practice.)  In 2011, the average model salary was $33,000 per year. One activist at the Model Alliance points out that earnings can be skewed, with some earning up to $400,000 per year and others steeped in debt to their agency. Like many other workers, it is rare for models to be paid overtime, no matter how late into the night a shoot may last, or to have employer-sponsored health insurance.

Peeling back the layers of many industries reveals a consistent truth: industry bosses earn high dollars on the backs of cheap, unprotected labor. But fair pay is far from the only workers’ rights issue models face. Ziff’s group is focused on moving the fashion industry in a number of different directions, including ending sexual harassment and assault, which some contend is widely under-reported by models fearful of losing work, and changing basic standards of beauty, which she feels have too long promoted unrealistic and unhealthy weight for women and girls.

Ziff is also focused on improving protections for minors working as models: “You see 14- or 15-year-old girls coming to New York to model, and these kids are not thinking about their rights,” Ziff said. “They might even feel lucky to have a picture in a magazine and not ask if they’re getting paid.”

So where are the “momagers” who can attend shoots to protect their kids? “Probably working themselves,” Ziff points out. “Most parents can’t afford to devote their lives to their kids’ careers.”

The Model Alliance has garnered some supporters from within the industry and secured partnerships with Fordham Law School and the Fashion Law Institute; it now plans to focus harder on payment-in-trade practices and on changing a host of other working conditions. “I don’t want to paint the career in a bad light,” Ziff says. “Modeling can be wonderful work. But hearing other models stories’ has made clear that bad experiences in the business — lack of financial security, sexual harassment — are systemic and need to change.”

From Saudi Arabia to the United States, the Human Rights of Domestic Workers Must Be Recognized

11:09 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Untitled

Domestic Workers

Written by Marianne Møllman for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Wednesday morning this week, news broke that Saudi Arabia‘s authorities had gone ahead with the public beheading of Rizana Nafeek, a young woman accused of killing a baby in her care in 2005 when she was 17 years old. Nafeek insisted the baby had died in a choking accident.

The case had long been the concern of the international community, not only because the death penalty is inherently cruel and inhumane and should be abolished, but also because there are reasons to believe Nafeek had been forced into making a confession — which she later retracted — and that the trial against her was anything but fair. In addition, the young woman was a Sri Lankan migrant domestic worker in Saudi Arabia, had limited access to legal counsel, and is likely to have understood little of the legal proceedings, making the situation even more inhumane.

Rizana Nafeek, was among the approximately 1.5 million women, predominantly from Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Philippines, working in private homes in Saudi Arabia. While some are treated well, domestic workers in Saudi Arabia enjoy fewer legal protections than any other type of workers, and human rights groups have documented horrific abuses against them, including physical brutality and deprivation of food, rest, and water.

But ill-treatment of domestic workers happens closer to home too. In the New York metro area there are an estimated 200,000 domestic workers, 99 percent of whom are immigrants. The abuse suffered by these workers was highlighted in a documentary in 2010, which also brought to light the lack of legal protection. Later that year, New York State became the first jurisdiction in the United States to pass a law to protect the rights of domestic workers.

In fact, most everywhere, domestic workers are subject to lesser legal protection than others, sometimes justified by reference to the difficulty in carrying out workplace inspections in private homes or the trite notion that domestic workers are treated as “part of the family.”  In mid 2011, the International Labour Organization adopted the first international treaty on the rights of domestic workers, providing hope for scores of women who are, even now, working without legal protection.

This is not a niche issue either. Across the world, an estimated 53 to 100 million persons — most of them women and girls — currently work as domestic workers. Some travel from rural areas to the city, others cross borders with or without permission. Their main motivation is to improve the situation for themselves and their families.

And it is perhaps this, the most human of conditions, that is lost in the back-and-forth over how and why some people “deserve” rights and other don’t: the search for survival and dignity through work.

This week’s execution in Saudi Arabia and the successful fight for legal protections for domestic workers in New York State highlight the central concept of humanity in the struggle for human rights.  Abuse is possible where domestic workers remain “other” — a foreigner, poor, a woman — and alone — isolated from their community and trapped in the workplace that doubles as “home.”  Change happens when we start seeing each other as humans, deserving of dignity and respect.
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