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Why today’s vote on H-2C visas is food’s biggest labor battle – The New Food Economy – 10/4/17 The New Food Economy October 4, 2017 “Why today’s vote on H2-C visas is food’s biggest labor battle” by Kate Cox On Monday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced the Agricultural Guestworker Act of 2017, a bill designed (on paper) to do three things: replace the existing H-2A visa program, call it instead […] Read More
Proposed Guestworker Program Is a Formula for Forced Labor – 10/4/17 This week, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced an updated proposal for a new federal guestworker program called the H-2C, modifying an earlier draft to appease extreme anti-immigrant and anti-worker interests. Below is a statement by National Guestworker Alliance (NGA) Executive Director Saket Soni, dated October 23, 2017: “If you wanted a write a formula for forced […] Read More
Trump’s DACA cancellation continues politics of hatred On September 5, 2017, the Trump Administration announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Below is a statement by Saket Soni, Executive Director of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ) and National Guestworker Alliance (NGA): “America faces a choice between the politics of hatred and division and […] Read More
Trump DOL shows callous disregard for subcontracted workers On June 7, 2017, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) rescinded an important guidance document on joint employer liability. Below is a statement by Saket Soni, Executive Director of the National Guestworker Alliance: “This week, the DOL rescinded a critical guidance document that helped uphold the rights of subcontracted and contingent workers. The move reflects a […] Read More

WWL-TV

November 16, 2017

Salvadoran man fearing deportation seeks sanctuary in Mid-City church

by Lauren Bale

A construction worker from El Salvador who fears being deported to his violent home county said Wednesday he will seek sanctuary in a Mid-City church.

Jose Torres, 31, was supposed to appear at a check-in with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office. Instead, he said, he plans to live inside First Grace United Methodist Church in Mid-City indefinitely to avoid being separated from his daughters, who are 2 and 8, and his wife who are United States citizens.

Torres said he entered the country illegally by swimming across the Rio Grande into Texas in 2005. He moved to the New Orleans area shortly after Hurricane Katrina and has lived here since.

“I have worked and sweated in this city, shoulder to shoulder with my brother and sister immigrants to rebuild New Orleans,” Torres said.

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The Times-Picayune

November 16, 2017

Immigrant takes sanctuary in New Orleans church, first to do so in Louisiana

by Maria Clark

Torres, a Salvadorian and father of two U.S. born children, has lived in the country since he was 18 years old. He was expected to check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement Wednesday morning.

“I packed my suitcase yesterday before taking her to school”, he said in Spanish speaking about his older daughter, Julissa, 8. “When she came home she called me and asked, ‘Why weren’t you there to pick me up?’

“I told her, ‘I am fighting to stay with you,'” Torres said.

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The New Orleans Advocate

November 15, 2017

Salvadoran native plans to live inside Mid-City New Orleans church to avoid deportation

by Matt Sledge

Fearing deportation to a native country wracked by violence, an El Salvadoran construction worker announced Wednesday he is seeking sanctuary at a New Orleans church.

Jose Torres was scheduled to appear at a check-in with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Wednesday morning. Instead, he said he plans to live inside First Grace United Methodist Church in Mid-City indefinitely, hoping to avoid being separated from his two young daughters, who are U.S. citizens.

“I have decided to take sanctuary because I have two babies who need me,” he said. “They’re destroying me totally as the father of a family. I feel terrible — they’re removing me from my daughters’ lives. That is why I am fighting against these injustices.”

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Mother Jones

November 1, 2017

The GOP Wants To Bring in More Migrant Guest Workers—But For Much Lower Pay

by Kanyakrit Vongkiatkajorn

Immigrant workers provide a crucial supply of labor for the American farm industry, making up more than 70 percent of farmworkers—nearly half of whom are undocumented. Though employers have long lobbied for ways to bring in more workers, legislators have disagreed on the best way to reform the current guest worker program for farmworkers, H-2A.

The latest attempt is a bill by Virginia Rep. Robert Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and one of the biggest proponents of reforming the H-2A.  The bill, which narrowly cleared the committee last Wednesday, would overhaul the current guest worker program and replace it with a new H-2C visa for bringing in foreign agricultural workers to the US. In contrast to the current H2-A visa, the new program, called the Agricultural Guestworker Act, would cap the number of visas at 450,000 a year, and allow workers to be able to stay year-round, while eliminating the requirement that employers provide free housing and transportation.

The bill, though widely supported by industry groups, has been contentious for both Republicans and Democrats. Immigrant advocacy groups say it would gut protections for workers, substantially lower wages for migrants, and expose even more workers to exploitation. The issue has been especially divisive for Republicans, who disagree over whether more immigrants should be brought into the country for jobs. (When Goodlatte introduced a similar version of the bill in the 2013, it never made it out of Congress.)

If passed, the bill could drastically change how migrant farm labor works in the United States. Here’s what you need to know about it:

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The Los Angeles Times

October 12, 2017

Post hurricane rebuilding will be done by undocumented workers—and they need protection

by Saket Soni

In Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, mammoth hurricanes have left behind a colossal amount of work. The cleanup and reconstruction efforts are going to take years. That means a severe demand for salvage and demolition crews, roofers, carpenters, drywall installers, painters, plumbers and workers in all manner of other trades and skills.

And if recent history tells us anything, much of this demand will be met by immigrants — migrant laborers, many of them highly skilled, and many of them lacking legal status.

As a workers’ rights organizer in New Orleans, I remember what happened on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. Immigrant workers surged in to tackle the huge job of rebuilding, only to be exploited by unscrupulous employers in an unregulated, chaotic and dangerous labor bazaar. The workers had little access to decent housing and little ability to protest against unsafe conditions or wage theft.

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The New Food Economy

October 4, 2017

“Why today’s vote on H2-C visas is food’s biggest labor battle”

by Kate Cox

On Monday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced the Agricultural Guestworker Act of 2017, a bill designed (on paper) to do three things: replace the existing H-2A visa program, call it instead the “H-2C” visa program, and put it under the purview of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The H-2A program is currently overseen by the Department of Labor (DOL) and provides temporary work visas for foreign agricultural workers who have job offers from a United States employer to do seasonal work. That program is not to be confused with the H-2B visa program—also a temporary work visa—for non-agricultural workers in other parts of the food supply chain, from packing to processing; fishing to food prep; even cooks, bartenders, and waitstaff.

The committee is scheduled to vote on the AG Act on Wednesday. Politico’s Christine Haughney on Tuesday set the hurried scene for Morning Agriculture this way: “true to his word to push it on a ‘tight timetable’ …  Goodlatte, who attended an immigration-focused dinner with Trump and other Hill leaders on Monday night, gave committee members little more than a day to read the 49-page bill and decide whether to vote for it.”

This reporter didn’t have a whole lot more time to read the bill on the train commute home than Hill leaders did on their way to dinner. But at least I don’t have to vote on it today.

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This week, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced an updated proposal for a new federal guestworker program called the H-2C, modifying an earlier draft to appease extreme anti-immigrant and anti-worker interests. Below is a statement by National Guestworker Alliance (NGA) Executive Director Saket Soni, dated October 23, 2017:

“If you wanted a write a formula for forced labor, Rep. Goodlatte’s proposal would be it. The H-2C guestworker visa program he’s proposing would add more misery for desperate migrant workers, subtract labor protections and employer responsibility, and equal disaster for guestworkers and the U.S. workers alongside them. It’s a guaranteed race to the bottom.

“The bill purports to address flaws with current guestworker programs. In fact it would exacerbate the worst faults of current programs, while creating a host of new ones that would hurt both guestworkers and U.S.-born workers.

“Goodlatte’s bill would:

  • reduce the wages of all workers in the industries it would affect (agriculture, aquaculture, dairy, forestry, seafood and meat processing);
  • strip away hard-fought workplace rights and protections for guestworkers in the current system, while limiting their ability to seek justice through the legal system;
  • all but eliminate federal enforcement of workers’ rights by making it the responsibility not of the U.S. Department of Labor—which itself struggles to keep workers safe—but the Department of Agriculture; and
  • and place an unsustainable and unfair financial burden on guestworkers by requiring them to pay for unsubsidized healthcare, withholding 10% of their wages, and not requiring that they be informed of these burdens in their contracts.

“This would all but guarantee widespread exploitation throughout the program, up to and including forced labor. Desperate migrant workers would be trapped, deeply indebted by recruitment fees and unfair requirements, while wages and conditions would fall for millions of U.S. workers in the same industries. High-road employers unwilling to exploit workers would also be undercut. The National Guestworker Alliance rejects this bill in the strongest terms.

“Labor migration with freedom and dignity is fundamental to the human and civil rights of migrants, and to the dignity of the U.S. workers alongside them. Guestworker programs must be designed to strengthen local economies while protecting workers and lawful employers. They should reflect the values of a society that believes in human, civil and labor rights, and in the right to migration for work with dignity. Rep. Goodlatte’s proposal fails on every count.”

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

Truth Out

September 12, 2017

Labor Movements and Universalizing Resistance

by John Trumpbour

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union participate in a strike on September 12, 2012, in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Peoplesworld)Members of the Chicago Teachers Union participate in a strike on September 12, 2012, in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Peoplesworld)

Charles Derber offers a guide to the new era of organizing in Welcome to the Revolution: Universalizing Resistance for Social Justice and Democracy in Perilous Times. With guest contributions from Medea Benjamin, Ralph Nader, Gar Alperovitz and more, this book makes a compelling argument about how movements must come together.

The following piece by John Trumpbour forms one of the guest “interludes” in Welcome to the Revolution.

Political scientist Joseph Luders in The Civil Rights Movement and the Logic of Social Change (2010) reflects in an obscure footnote that “Curiously, the labor movement is conventionally ignored by scholars of social movements.” This stark observation is the starting point of environmental and labor organizer Jane F. McAlevey’s new book on transforming the U.S. labor movement called No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age (2016).

It is often forgotten that the U.S. labor movement, despite having many elements complicit with white supremacy and interventionist foreign policy, played a critical role in advancing the civil rights movement.  The original push for a March on Washington came from A. Philip Randolph, the president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.  The labor movement’s involvement in so many civil rights struggles, including Martin Luther King’s last fight in Memphis for the city’s sanitation workers, has been largely erased from public memory.

In a speech to the AFL-CIO on December 11, 1961, Martin Luther King saw the connection between the denial of labor rights and degrading conditions for African Americans and for all workers:

“In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.  Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone…Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights… We demand this fraud be stopped.”

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On September 5, 2017, the Trump Administration announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Below is a statement by Saket Soni, Executive Director of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ) and National Guestworker Alliance (NGA):

“America faces a choice between the politics of hatred and division and the politics of love and dignity. Donald Trump has chosen hatred again and again. He did so today when he cruelly and senselessly ended the DACA program that has given hope to nearly a million young people—many of whom have only known the U.S. as their home.

“Trump’s decision on DACA is a continuation of the politics of white supremacy that have marked his Administration from the beginning. They include his pardoning the hate-monger Joe Arpaio and defending neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. Today’s decision is as vile as those.

“We stand in solidarity not only with the Dreamers, but with all immigrant workers, families, and communities fighting for dignity in the face of hatred.

“We call on Congress to stand with the overwhelming majority of Americans and protect the Dreamers through bipartisan legislation as soon as possible. And we demand an end to the terrorization of immigrants through deportations that tear families and communities apart.

“DACA was won in the streets by immigrants who put love ahead of fear. We will continue to fight alongside them, against hatred and criminalization, and for the right of all immigrants to remain in the communities they call home.”

On June 7, 2017, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) rescinded an important guidance document on joint employer liability. Below is a statement by Saket Soni, Executive Director of the National Guestworker Alliance:

“This week, the DOL rescinded a critical guidance document that helped uphold the rights of subcontracted and contingent workers. The move reflects a callous disregard for the struggles of subcontracted workers in America, a lack of understanding of workforce trends, and the Trump Administration’s latest betrayal of its pledge to protect the rights of workers.

“The guidance addressed the the issue of joint employer liability, which is central to the fight against inequality and unfair working conditions. It was issued in January 2016 by then-DOL Wage and Hour Administrator Dr. David Weil, one of the world’s leading experts on the changing the dynamics of an increasingly subcontracted workforce.

“The guidance clarified that businesses may be jointly liable for minimum wage and overtime obligations towards workers even where they are not the direct employer for purposes of payroll or other common law definitions. It was part of the Obama Administration’s efforts to stop businesses from improperly classifying workers as independent contractors, which is a problem from the on-demand economy to agriculture and construction. The National Guestworker Alliance actively advocated for and applauded the measure.

“At a time when the American workforce is increasingly subcontracted and precarious, rolling back this critical piece of administrative guidance is the height of irresponsibility to America’s workers.”

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


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