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What the Newest Labor Groups Mean For US Workers – Fortune – 4/18/17 Fortune April 18, 2017 What the Newest Labor Groups Mean For US Workers by Rick Wartzman Tensions are mounting this week as the Writers Guild of America attempts to hammer out a new labor agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, with scripts being stockpiled in case no contract is reached and the industry […]
Trump’s New Order Speeds the Race to the Bottom – 4-18-17 On April 18, 2017, the Trump Administration released an executive order addressing federal guestworker visa programs. Below is a statement by National Guestworker Alliance (NGA) Executive Director Saket Soni: “Today’s executive order threatens to erode the rights both of guestworkers, and of U.S. workers in similar jobs, on the pretext of protecting only the latter. […]
‘A gift to human traffickers’: report warns of dangers of Trump immigration policy – The Guardian – 3/10/17 The Guardian March 10, 2017 ‘A gift to human traffickers’: report warns of dangers of Trump immigration policy By Kate Hodal Donald Trump’s hardline approach to immigration has been branded a “gift to human traffickers” amid concerns that stricter deportation and border regulations will push undocumented migrant workers underground, putting them at greater risk of […]
After Kansas – The Indian Express – 3/2/17 The Indian Express March 2, 2017 After Kansas: Posing as a ‘model minority’ cannot keep Indian migrants safe in Trump’s America. By Saket Soni The scene at the Kansas bar was every immigrant’s nightmare. Two Indian H-1B guestworkers, Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani, were sharing an after-work whiskey in a bar in Olathe, Kansas. A white […]

Fortune

April 18, 2017

What the Newest Labor Groups Mean For US Workers

by Rick Wartzman

Tensions are mounting this week as the Writers Guild of America attempts to hammer out a new labor agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, with scripts being stockpiled in case no contract is reached and the industry shuts down in early May.

Yet a bigger role already is being cast—and it’s for the guild model itself.

Across more and more of the economy, worker advocates are hoping to replicate the ways in which screenwriters, actors, and others in Hollywood have been organized since the 1920s and ’30s.

Driving this development are the exploding ranks of “gig workers,” who don’t have a traditional relationship with a single employer. Many, like those in entertainment, bounce from one project to the next. This includes folks who find assignments via digital platforms such as TaskRabbit and Upwork, as well as day laborers who get picked up on a street corner and are driven to a construction site. Others may work for a particular company (at least for a stretch) but are considered independent contractors, not employees. Uber has become the poster child for this system.

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On April 18, 2017, the Trump Administration released an executive order addressing federal guestworker visa programs. Below is a statement by National Guestworker Alliance (NGA) Executive Director Saket Soni:

“Today’s executive order threatens to erode the rights both of guestworkers, and of U.S. workers in similar jobs, on the pretext of protecting only the latter. ‘Buy American, Hire American,’ coupled with the anti-immigrant hysteria this administration encourages, is deadly. Trump’s economic nationalism creates a false ‘us,’ while his deportation force creates a false ‘them.’ The result is that all workers lose.

“The order issued today falsely blames migrant workers for the impacts of unregulated labor markets and rampant corporate globalization. Guestworkers make tremendous sacrifices to come to the U.S. and perform necessary jobs far from their families, with little stability and often in deplorable conditions. These workers must be protected from exploitation both for their own sake, and to prevent a race to the bottom with U.S. workers.

“Trump’s latest executive order is confusing and opaque, directing actions that seem aimed at placing employer interests over worker rights. The order opens a path for federal agencies to roll back the protections in guestworker programs that are already insufficient to secure the basic rights of guestworkers or their U.S. counterparts.

“The order fails to address the rampant abuse of guestworkers outside the H-1B program, such as the widespread forced labor conditions the NGA has exposed in the H-2B and J-1 visa programs. It also threatens to eliminate all parole programs, which have permitted the discretionary admission of immigrants for humanitarian purposes. This could immediately cancel the status of thousands of immigrants who are currently lawfully present in the United States for humanitarian purposes—dividing families, undermining human rights, and creating chaos.

“No overhaul of guestworker programs will succeed unless it empowers guestworkers to report workplace abuse, and protects them from immigration-related threats. All federal agencies connected to workplace regulation should be consulting with worker voice organizations to understand the realities workers face on the ground.

“Basic human and civil rights in the workplace cannot be parceled out by visa category, industry, national origin, or immigration status. The rights of U.S. workers will only be secure when the rights and dignity of migrant workers in the U.S. are secure as well.”

 

The Guardian

March 10, 2017

‘A gift to human traffickers’: report warns of dangers of Trump immigration policy

By Kate Hodal

Donald Trump’s hardline approach to immigration has been branded a “gift to human traffickers” amid concerns that stricter deportation and border regulations will push undocumented migrant workers underground, putting them at greater risk of slavery and human rights abuses.

The new administration’s immigration policy – which hinges on the construction of a US-Mexico border wall and immediate repatriation of illegal immigrants – will force criminal networks to use more costly and potentially more dangerous trafficking routes by air and sea, say global risk analysts Verisk Maplecroft.

According to a report by the company, the controversial stance adopted by the White House towards migrant workers and immigration will be a major driver of human rights risks for business in 2017.

Developed countries are warned that human rights abuses are surfacing closer to home for western companies just as legislation strengthens and scrutiny of business practices increases.

Saket Soni, executive director of the membership organisation National Guestworkers Alliance, said the Trump administration’s new regulations will only exacerbate existing problems and proves that the US government is “part of the problem”.

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The Indian Express

March 2, 2017

After Kansas: Posing as a ‘model minority’ cannot keep Indian migrants safe in Trump’s America.

By Saket Soni

The scene at the Kansas bar was every immigrant’s nightmare. Two Indian H-1B guestworkers, Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani, were sharing an after-work whiskey in a bar in Olathe, Kansas. A white American, Adam Purington, hurled racist insults at them and was thrown out. But he returned with a shotgun, shouted “Get out of my country,” and opened fire. He killed Srinivas and wounded Alok, as well as an American man who tried to stop him. The shooting sent shockwaves through the United States and India. Unsurprisingly, the White House rejected any connection between President Donald Trump’s hate-filled rhetoric and the shooting.

But the shooting reveals what happens when the realities of globalism meet Trump’s economic nationalism. On one hand, US immigration policy imports Indian migrant workers. On the other hand, the new political rhetoric encourages Americans to see those workers as a threat. The shooting also showed the two impulses that have always coexisted in America: The racist and nativist impulses of the shooter, and the embracing impulse of another white man, Ian Grillot, who tried to stop the shooter and got shot himself.

Indians have always had faith in the American impulse to embrace and protect migrants. But the painful reality is that racism is the stronger impulse now — boosted by Trump’s rhetoric and economic nationalism. I understand the optimistic view of the US: America gave me a scholarship to come to college and I believed I had come to a welcoming place. Donald Trump’s America is different. Race-based violence against people of colour in the US isn’t new. The Black Lives Matter movement emerged to demand an end to police violence targeting African Americans. What is new is that the president ran on an openly xenophobic and anti-immigrant platform, and upon his election, embraced the view that brown people are a threat. This gives a new boldness to Americans who may be ready to turn their racial and economic resentment into violence. Hate crimes and threats are surging — against Jews, Muslims, Latin Americans, African Americans and Asians.

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On Wednesday, February 15, 2017, Trump Labor Secretary pick Andy Puzder withdrew his candidacy. Below is a statement by Saket Soni, Executive Director of the National Guestworker Alliance:

“The withdrawal of Andy Puzder is a victory for every worker in the U.S.–starting with the restaurant workers who suffered wage theft, sexual harassment, and health and safety violations at Puzder’s CKE Restaurants. We were proud to join with our allies at the National Employment Law Project, Jobs with Justice, Restaurant Opportunities Center, and many other labor, civil, and human rights organizations in opposing Puzder’s candidacy.

“Whomever Donald Trump nominates next, we and our allies will continue to fight for a Secretary of Labor who fulfills the Department of Labor’s mandate to protect and further the rights of all workers in the United States–U.S.-born and migrant workers alike.

“Work is changing dramatically in the United States and across the globe. Workers need advocates in government who who will oppose employers’ effort to shred traditional labor protections, who will refuse to pit U.S. and immigrant workers against each other in a race to the bottom, and who will help workers meet their need for a new social contract. That’s the kind of Secretary of Labor all working families need.”

On February 9, 2017, the Trump administration released an Executive Order addressing transnational human and drug trafficking. The below is a statement by Saket Soni, Executive Director of the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA):

“The Trump administration’s Executive Order on transnational human and drug trafficking falls dramatically short of protecting vulnerable workers and preventing human trafficking. The order is a fundamental policy regression from gains the anti-trafficking movement has made in recent years. It takes the United States government back to a myopic approach focused only on prosecution. It also reflects a particularly distorted immigration enforcement-focused vision, with the racially motivated subtext that traffickers are only foreign nationals, and that all human trafficking is transnational. The policy outlined in the order completely ignores root causes and the conditions of vulnerability that allow trafficking to flourish. It makes no mention of the responsibility of corporations whose supply chains profit from forced labor, and it fails to address victim protections and victim services.

“The U.S. government’s policy approach to fighting trafficking has centered on a ‘four Ps’ paradigm of prevention, protection of victims, prosecution of perpetrators, and partnership with civil society and business. The first three of these are enshrined in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), the guiding and still operative legislation on this issue. The new order represents a radical departure from this holistic approach, and one that is likely to contribute to the vulnerability of immigrant and non-immigrant guestworkers, whose immigration status is often exploited by traffickers to keep them in modern-day slavery.

“Our experience on issues of labor trafficking shows why this executive order is exactly the wrong approach. For the last decade, the NGA has worked closely with trafficked workers on labor supply chains, helping them fight for their workplace rights and human dignity. In each case, a U.S. employer benefited from the trafficking, and the fear of immigration retaliation kept workers in forced labor. In 2008, we helped 200 H-2B workers from India escape a racially segregated labor camp at Mississippi at the oil services company Signal International. The workers were criminalized and hunted by immigration authorities when they spoke out against the company. Eventually the company’s collusion with immigration authorities was exposed in a lawsuit. The workers were vindicated by U.S. government agencies and the company was hit with a $14 million verdict in federal court.

“Our organization also exposed forced labor conditions among H-2B guestworkers on Walmart’s U.S. seafood supply chain in 2012. In that instance, a U.S. employer on Walmart’s supply chain threatened immigration retaliation. These cases and others show that an immigration-enforcement approach to human trafficking only adds to vulnerability by handing traffickers and employers the ability to retaliate against whistleblowers.

“The U.S. government should be implementing policies that protect workers’ freedom of association, and giving them the means to report discrimination and abuse without fear of retaliation. We need policies that let worker leave abusive employers without losing their immigration status. We need the U.S. government to robustly implement the nation’s labor laws, including protections around health and safety and wage theft that would combat the broader conditions that allow trafficking to take root.

“Yesterday’s short-sighted and misguided order stands in clear violation of our most cherished American values. At the end of the day, the order represents a victory for human traffickers, and yet another blow to the interests of workers in America. The opposite of trafficking and forced labor is freedom at work—and this executive order contributes to the coercive environment that too many workers already find themselves in.”

CONTACT: Stephen Boykewich, stephen@guestworkeralliance.org, (323) 673-1307

Penn Live

January 30, 2017

Do we really want an anti-labor Labor Secretary?

By Kati Sipp

What will life be like for working people if President Donald Trump’s labor secretary pick Andy Puzder gets confirmed? Pennsylvanians already know.

In 2013, readers of this newspaper learned about brutal labor exploitation at fast food restaurants in Harrisburg, Lemoyne, and Camp Hill–including sub-minimum wage pay, unpaid overtime, work shifts that lasted up to 25 hours straight, and for some workers, overpriced company housing where eight people were packed into a single basement room.

Some of those workers were student guestworkers who came to the U.S. on J-1 visas expecting a “cultural exchange program,” but instead faced abuse and wage theft at the central Pennsylvania McDonald’s restaurants.

When the student workers spoke up, their boss threatened to fire and deport them.

It wasn’t just student guestworkers facing abuse. Local Pennsylvians were being exploited and robbed of their already low wages right alongside them.

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Medium

December 22, 2016

A Voice for Independent Workers

By Kati Sipp

What do an adjunct professor, a day laborer, and an Uber driver have in common? More than you might think.

In recent decades, the U.S. economy has been shifting from one of stable, full-time jobs to a gig economy, where short-term, piecemeal, unstable work is the norm.

We’ve seen this among our members at the National Guestworker Alliance(NGA): contingent workers in industries including construction, service, hospitality, food processing, and logistics.

We’ve also seen it in the broader economy. Employers are replacing full-time workers with freelancers or subcontractors to avoid paying for benefits and to reduce responsibility for their workforce. Another face of the gig economy has been the rise of app-based employment platforms like Uber and TaskRabbit, which provide millions of workers with gig-to-gig income — but none of the protections of traditional jobs.

Online or off, gig economy workers face similar challenges. Freelance designers and ride-share drivers may have the kind of flexibility that full-time workers don’t, but that comes at the cost of the stability. The industrial middle class in the U.S. was built on long-term jobs — often unionized — that came with employer-paid health benefits, retirement programs, and a social safety net that let workers plan for the future. Today’s gig economy workers don’t have that.

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The Hill

December 15, 2016

“Trump’s opportunity to help millions of workers in our country”

By Saket Soni

While Donald Trump was taking his victory lap over the deal to stop Carrier Corporation from moving 800 Indiana jobs to Mexico, many pointed out that the deal offers little hope for the larger U.S. workforce. No presidential administration could cut individual deals with every U.S. company looking to outsource jobs.

There is something Trump can do, though, about the abuse of insourcing. Companies outsource jobs to take advantage of cheaper workers in Mexico, India and China. When they can’t move their facilities abroad, they often import foreign workers into the U.S. instead through federal guestworker programs. But abuse of these programs is rampant—and hurts both guestworkers and U.S. workers.

Trump surprised many when he named ending guestworker program abuse as a top priority for his first 100 days.

“On immigration,” Trump said in a message to the country, “I will direct the Department of Labor to investigate all abuses of visa programs that undercut the American worker.”

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Medium

December 12, 2016

We Can Find the Cash to Pay for a Basic Income for All. But Can We Find the Love?

By Saket Soni

Donald Trump’s deal with Carrier to stop 800 U.S. jobs from being outsourced to Mexico was meant to raise hopes for a new era of job stability. Critics on both sides of the aisle dismissed this as a fantasy. Ironically, it was the CEO of Carrier’s parent company, United Technologies, who offered one of the clearest reasons why: where companies can’t outsource to cut labor costs, they’ll automate instead. In fact, CEO Greg Hayes said, United Technologies plans to invest $16 million to automate jobs at the very plant where Trump cut his deal.

Not to mention that Trump’s pick for Secretary of Labor, Andy Puzder, has said he wants to replace human workers at his fast food chains with robots.

The U.S. economy has undergone a fundamental transformation. Workers can no longer count on the kinds of permanent full-time jobs that brought benefits and long-term stability to previous generations. Americans know this. The insurgencies in both major political parties this election season, as well as the election of Trump itself, were driven in part by pain and frustration over our country’s broken social contract.

Gig-to-gig work is on the rise. The U.S. Government Accountability Office says that more than 40% of U.S. workers are “contingent” in one form or another — meaning they’re agency temps, direct-hire temps, on-call workers, day laborers, part-time workers or independent contractors. Long-term unemployment is near historic highs. Ever-more-rapid technological change threatens to hollow out entire industries through automation.

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