The Fight for Immigrant Rights
March 15, 2005 4:58 PM   Subscribe

Suburban sweatshops. Jorge Bonilla is hospitalized with pneumonia from sleeping at the restaurant where he works, unable to afford rent on wages of thirty cents an hour. Domestic worker Yanira Juarez discovers she has labored for six months with no wages at all; her employer lied about establishing a savings account for her.
In 1992, Fordham law professor Jennifer Gordon founded the Workplace Project to help immigrant workers in the underground suburban economy of Long Island, New York. She has written a book ,"Suburban Sweatshops", to describe the experiences of these immigrants. More inside.
posted by matteo (14 comments total)
Zoila Rodriguez provided live-in child care for a family that not only reneged on a promised raise, but forbade her to leave their house during the work week, even if it was nighttime and she had no work left to do. After Rodolfo Sorto, a janitor, tried to organize a union in his workplace, his employer retaliated by forcing him to work with toxic chemicals without protective clothing; he eventually landed in the hospital.

Despite representing people who don't have the legal right to vote, the Workplace Project has successfully lobbied for stronger enforcement of New York State's minimum wage law; thanks to these efforts, it is now a felony for an employer to pay below the minimum wage. People had been earning $2 to $3 an hour -- or nothing at all -- for their work.
posted by matteo at 4:59 PM on March 15, 2005

Mean people suck. Unfortunately, mean people are everywhere. It's crap like this that drains my dwindling faith in humanity.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:09 PM on March 15, 2005

Compare an earlier thread on the late and slow death of slavery in the U.S.
posted by Zurishaddai at 5:12 PM on March 15, 2005

and don't forget about Linda Chavez: ... Chavez, 53, a former Reagan administration official whose nomination has drawn sharp opposition from labor unions, provided shelter and financial assistance to the Guatemalan woman for about a year, Eskew said.

"Ms. Chavez did not employ this woman as a housekeeper or anything else," he said.

"On an irregular basis, she was given spending money. On an irregular basis, she did chores around the house," Eskew said. He said the money was mainly for "living expenses and to help her feed herself" and not compensation for the chores.

He said Chavez suspected at the time that the woman was in the country illegally, although did not focus on it because she did not consider her an employee.

"She didn't know for a fact" that the woman was undocumented, Eskew added. He said Chavez only realized this for sure a few years later when the woman, who had returned to Guatemala, called to request assistance for coming back to the United States legally to work.
"She has a big heart," Eskew said.

But the AFL-CIO, whose president John Sweeney has called Chavez' nomination "an insult to American working men and women," issued a statement yesterday saying that, "Unfortunately, her explanation sounds too much like the explanation of employers who have tried to skirt the law by saying that individuals are not their employees."

The Rev. Jesse Jackson called the arrangement "indentured servitude," telling ABC "This Week" that, as labor secretary, "This woman must now enforce the law."

It's very very common--and terrible.
posted by amberglow at 5:17 PM on March 15, 2005

Speaking of Linda Chavez... That is a column she wrote a few months ago about Bernard Kerik (almost became Homeland Security head) and his problems when allegations of illegal aliens came out. A choice quote by the big-hearted Chavez:

Are we really prepared to pay more for ... burgers at the local fast-food restaurant?
posted by crazy finger at 6:01 PM on March 15, 2005

Also read Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
posted by Plutor at 6:02 PM on March 15, 2005

30ยข an hour! WTF!?

And as for that ass Linda Chavez...Linda, we have a word for that when you force (yes "force" when the alternative is deportation or arrest) somebody to work for you without compensation. What was that word again?

Oh. Yeah. "Slavery"
posted by tkchrist at 6:11 PM on March 15, 2005

Cabinet-level posts are the last refuge of scoundrels.
posted by psmealey at 6:23 PM on March 15, 2005

If we'd just remove the minimum wage, this wouldn't be a problem.
posted by weston at 3:00 AM on March 16, 2005

Remember, you should be glad you have a work !! You don't have an "employer" you have a"work donor" because of course he/she is giving you money only because they're waaay too generous...your working for them is absolutely not the cause. Indeed, it is SO MUCH not the cause that if you stop working for any reason they'll keep giving you money. They'll even keep giving you money till you die

What, they don't ? Oh I see now they donate to the other guy, you know, that dirty poor spic that just come from across the border and costs dares he be like me one year ago.
posted by elpapacito at 3:31 AM on March 16, 2005

Why is it that employers are never held responsible for the way they treat workers? The ability to abuse immigrants is the whole reason for the bullshit idea that there are jobs that Americans won't do.

Wanna fix illegal immigration? Make employers pay when they decide they would rather [ab]use immigrants than comply with labor laws that protect American citizens and legal residents.
posted by gminks at 3:32 AM on March 16, 2005

Hear, hear, gminks. Couldn't have put it better myself.
posted by ilsa at 10:01 AM on March 16, 2005

The answer to all this, IMHO, is to abolish immigration laws and minimum wage laws, and make torturing employees an indictable offence with, oh, say, a minimum of 1 year in jail for the top man in the company.

As it stands right now, violating minimum wage laws is going to be a monetary slap on the wrist to a company with a good lawyer, and making a worker harm himself is going to go down as a workplace accident and simply raise insurance a bit. You'll never convince the general public that paying someone too little for their work (but treating them okay) or asking them to do dangerous things is something worth jailing someone over, unlike torture.

By having such tight immigration laws, you ensure people are afraid of using government protection ("The tighter your grip, the less you can control") and by having minimum wage laws you ensure a company will take full advantage (read: abuse) of a labourer if the company considers them overpaid (the truth, as we know, is the opposite, and the company knows that in the back of their brain, but won't admit it), or simply ensure the non-existance of the job/service in your country with the corollary of it being exported to countries where torturing employees is practice de jure.

But that's just me, an electronics retailer where 99% of the products come from China sweatshops because nobody in Canada can work for under $8 an hour to put screws in a satellite receiver. Not that I'm complaining, I really don't care which country the receivers come from, but I'm dreading the day I find a severed finger (or worse) inside a box.
posted by shepd at 12:36 PM on March 16, 2005

Education is the key. And although it is hard; most all of us here realize that if we slack for too long in our personal growth; we begin to slip backwards in life. Not so far as to find ourselves shammed by employers (ok, a CEO could drain the pension fund, etc... uh. Ooops.) or outsourced, or... uh... Enron! Worldcom! Etc....

I make an effort to purchase from countries and companies that pay a living wage; be it having to buy a $80 pair of speaker cables from Norway, furniture made locally, or coffee mugs from a local craft fair. Yes, I all but like to boast about it at times. Yes, my B&W speakers are from England. And my Sound Organisation stands too. And my RCA and DVD cables are made in Texas. My bookshelves six blocks from where I live. My room fan, a Vornado; from Andover, Kansas. And these factories all employ actual career employees with families and homes. Costs a little more; maybe a lot more compared to slave products, but...

Usually irritates people to no end. Words are cheap. make an effort to NOT support slave factories. Think about what is being purchased, and who made it... saw an old lady in church last week with a very intricate pair of earrings. Think a grown adult did that work? Can you say "child labour"? Think missy wanted to hear anything about the child that worked all day for five cents to make her ear decorations? Uh, doubtful. Think missy would rant endlessly about how terrible child labour is and how she is against it? Probably so.

In the end, the masses and uninformed support the sweatshops. Supply : Demand : Economics. Hated to have to spend big bucks for Chinese made 650 down sleeping bags a few years ago; but aside from China; where else do they come from? There are no down bags made in the states. Good God, PETA would launch an attack on the factory before it could even open.
Think before you buy (legislation has always failed to cause much change)! Who, where, and how? Caveat Emtor!
posted by buzzman at 3:49 PM on March 16, 2005

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