Category: Press Statements

Companies that Profited from Immigrant Abuse Donated to Anti-Immigrant Republicans

FL guestworkers who exposed abuse demand that U.S. Reps give up dirty money

MIAMI, FL, August 28, 2013—Luxury condo managers in Florida that profited from the abuse of immigrant guestworkers donated $174,000 to prominent politicians, including some of the very Republicans blocking immigration reform, the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA) revealed Wednesday. The workers are petitioning those politicians to reject the dirty money and stand against the abuse of immigrant workers—especially U.S. Representatives Jeff Miller (FL-1) and Steve Southerland (FL-2), in whose districts the abuse took place.

As Florida media reported (NPR, ABC TV), H-2B guestworkers from Jamaica came forward on Aug. 19 to expose the horrific conditions they endured while leased out to luxury condo managers on the Florida Panhandle. As the workers’ Department of Labor complaint details, workers faced brutal housing conditions, zero dollar checks, and written threats that they would be deported by immigration police in retaliation for speaking out against the abuse.

The workers cleaned condos for Silver Shells Beach Resort and Spa in Destin, FL; The Resort Collection of Panama City; Five Star Beach Properties, LLC; and Oaseas Resorts LLC, whose owners and executives have donated $174,000 to politicians in and around Florida [since 1990]. These donations went to Republicans over Democrats by a 25:1 margin, and recipients include some of the Republicans trying hardest to block comprehensive immigration reform.

Key facts on the donations:

  • The companies and their executives have given about $174,000 to state and federal candidates and their PACs since 1990, including $19,550 in the 2012 cycle.
  • The top recipient is the Republican Party of Florida with $18,241 in donations.  Another $6,000 went to the Republican Party of Florida Federal Campaign Account.
  • Other recipients include Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL), Sen. Mark Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Spencer Bachus (R-AL), and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).
  • The donors gave $147,207 to Republicans, versus $5,850 to Democrats (25:1).

“The same Republicans trying to block immigration reform and further criminalize immigrant workers have been taking donations from companies that profit from the abuse of immigrant workers,” said Saket Soni, NGA Executive Director. “There is no clearer sign of how urgently we need immigration reform with strong worker protections.”

“These Republicans claim to believe in the rule of law. If that’s true, they need to start by rejecting these donations, putting them in a fund to make the workers whole, and publicly denouncing the illegal abuse of immigrant workers in their own backyard,” Soni said.

The Jamaican guestworkers have launched a petition demanding:

  1. That their employers pay back the money the workers are owed, including the unlawful recruitment fees, overpriced housing deductions, and unpaid hours and overtime.
  2. That the politicians who received political contributions from the property managers put that money into a fund to make the workers whole, and support immigration reform with strong worker protections. The first to do so should be Reps. Jeff Miller and Steve Southerland, in whose backyard the abuse took place.

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CONTACT:  Stephen Boykewich, 323-594-2347, stephen@guestworkeralliance.org

One week into their campaign, Jamaican guestworkers fighting against labor abuse they exposed in Florida won a breakthrough pledge from federal immigration authorities not to collude with their employer in deporting them.

In an unprecedented written communication, the Miami field office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) invoked the authority of two key documents that are supposed to govern how ICE operates internally: the December 2011 Memorandum of Understanding between the Departments of Homeland Security and Labor, and the June 2011 Prosecutorial Discretion Memo that specifically limits enforcement against certain victims, witnesses, and plaintiffs.

This breakthrough comes after years of community pressure on ICE not to carry through on employer threats of retaliatory deportation. In 2008, workers from India exposed how ICE was colluding with their employer to prevent them from expose labor trafficking. Since then, workers have fought for this protection from Justice@Hershey’s in 2010, to Breaking Chains at Walmart in 2012, to Jamaican Workers for Change today.

With this protection in hand, the Jamaican workers’ civil and labor rights will be secure as they fight to be made whole by their employers, and to help win immigration reform with strong worker protections. The pledge they won from ICE in Miami is also a precedent for other groups of workers to win similar pledges all around the country during civil and labor rights disputes. As the 11 million fight for comprehensive immigration reform, they’re also fighting for strong worker protections, and this pledge is one way to win them.

This victory also vindicates our fight for the POWER Act, a bill that protects immigrant whistleblowers who come forward against abuse—while also protecting the U.S. workers alongside them. We’re won inclusion of the POWER Act in the Senate immigration bill. Now we need to ensure it passes the House as well.

We look forward to working with you as the Jamaican workers fight on to win justice for themselves, and dignity for all the 11 million.

Guestworker Whistleblowers Seek Protection in Miami

As abusive employer ups threats of retaliation, Jamaican guestworkers
seek aid from U.S. Reps, federal authorities, organized labor

WHAT:  Press conference by guestworkers who exposed severe labor abuse on Florida’s Emerald Coast

WHO:  Jamaican H-2B guestworker members of the National Guestworker Alliance; allies from Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC), UNITE HERE, SEIU 32BJ

WHERE: UNITE HERE, 1525 NW 167 St., Suite 450, Miami, FL 33169

WHEN: 5 PM Wednesday, August 21, 2013

CONTACT:  Stephen Boykewich, 323-594-2347, stephen@guestworkeralliance.org

MIAMI, FL, August 21—Facing fresh threats of retaliation from the Emerald Coast employer who subjected them to severe labor abuse, immigrant guestworkers will hit Miami on Wednesday, asking politicians, immigration authorities, and organized labor for protection.

As Tallahassee media reported (NPR, ABC TV), H-2B guestworkers from Jamaica came forward on Monday to expose the horrific conditions they endured while a labor contractor called Mister Clean leased them out to luxury condo managers on Florida’s Emerald Coast.

When the workers demanded their rights earlier this summer—complaining of brutal housing conditions and zero dollar checks—the employer responded with written threats he would evict them and have them deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The workers filed an official complaint with the Department of Labor on Monday and met with Rep. Steve Southerland. They exposed how under the current broken immigration system, employers use threats of deportation to block all immigrant workers—even those on guestworker visas—from exposing illegal practices.

In response, the workers’ employer intensified threats on Tuesday to cancel the workers’ visas and blacklist them.

On Wednesday, workers will seek support from Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, as well as civil and labor rights leaders from the Florida Immigration Coalition, SEIU 32, and UNITE HERE. The will also ask the Miami field office of ICE to pledge not to collaborate with the employer in deporting them.

The abuse and threats the workers faced is a clear demonstration of the need for immigration reform with strong worker protections. This exposé comes on the heels of a Friday-night announcement by the Republican National Committee rejecting comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship, and favoring further criminalization of immigrants instead.

 

Guestworkers to U.S. Reps in FL: Pass Immigration Reform to End the Abuse We Faced

Jamaican guestworkers defy threats of deportation to expose abuse in backyard of U.S. Reps who oppose immigration reform

TALLAHASSEE, FL, Aug. 19, 2013—On Monday, immigrant guestworkers on H-2B visas defied threats of deportation to expose horrific conditions they endured while they were leased out as housecleaners to luxury condo managers on Florida’s Emerald Coast.

Workers showed copies of zero-dollar checks they received when exorbitant housing deductions and inadequate hours brought their take-home pay so low that they were told they owed the employer money at the end of a pay period.

When the workers stood up to demand their pay, the employer made verbal and written threats that he would evict them and have them deported by immigration police.

“He held us hostage. We were mistreated. We were robbed,” said Judith Heslop, one of 150 guestworkers on H-2B visas from Jamaica who were recruited to work for a contractor called Mister Clean Laundry and Cleaning Services. “Now I’m here standing up for our rights and justice. No other worker should go through what we did.”

Heslop and her fellow workers joined the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA) to take action. On Monday, they filed an official complaint with the Department of Labor, and also met with the office of U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland (FL-2), who represents one of the districts where they worked. The workers asked Rep. Southerland to support a thorough investigation into the workplace violations, threats, and retaliation they faced.

They also called on Southerland, together with Rep. Jeff Miller (FL-1), to reject the Republican National Committee’s newly hardened stance against comprehensive immigration reform, and to support reform with strong worker protections to prevent future abuse.

“While these workers are defying threats of deportation to expose the abuse they faced, the Republican Party is pushing for further criminalization of immigrants like them,” said Saket Soni, Executive Director of the NGA. “This is how broken our immigration system is: even guestworkers on federal work visas can be trapped in abuse by threats of deportation. If Republican House members truly believe in the rule of law, they need to pass comprehensive immigration reform with strong worker protections.”

Florida AFL-CIO Legislative and Political Director Rich Templin said: “When immigrant workers like these come forward to expose abuse, they’re not just standing up for themselves—they’re standing up for the millions of U.S. workers alongside them. Immigrant workers need real reform, a path to citizenship, and strong worker protections for the sake of every worker in the U.S.”

CONTACT:  Stephen Boykewich, 323-594-2347, stephen@guestworkeralliance.org

Photos

Background

In early 2013, over 150 guestworkers, mostly women, were recruited in Jamaica to serve as housecleaners for luxury condos on Florida’s Emerald Gulf Coast.

The workers paid $2,000 to $2,500 apiece in recruitment fees and costs to participate in the H-2B guestworker visa program with the hopes of providing for their children and families back in Jamaica. They were promised they would earn that money back within a few weeks of full-time work, and would be provided decent living conditions.

Instead, a labor contractor called Mister Clean Laundry and Cleaning Services trapped them in a nightmare of economic desperation and threats of deportation. Mister Clean leased them out to luxury beach condos managed by Silver Shells Beach Resort and Spa in Destin, FL; The Resort Collection of Panama City; Five Star Beach Properties, LLC; and Oaseas Resorts LLC.

  • Workers took on as much as $2,500 in debt to come to the United States, and after nearly five months cleaning condos, still owe money to creditors back home.
  • Workers were packed up to 15 people to a two-bedroom company apartment, sleeping on the floor while paying up to $375 a month each in rent.
  • Workers faced restricted hours and mandatory deductions—including a $70 “uniform fee” for a t-shirt—that at times brought their paychecks to below $0. Workers were told they owed money on payday to cover inflated cost of rent in company housing.
  • While many workers faced insufficient hours, others were overworked to the point of collapse, facing repeated 14-hour shifts with no overtime pay.
  • Workers were repeatedly paid with bad checks, and would have to wait for replacement checks without money to buy food or send home to their children.

The workers are on strike from their employer, and are demanding:

  1. That their employers pay back the money the workers are owed, including the unlawful recruitment fees, overpriced housing deductions, and unpaid hours and overtime.
  2. That Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) pledge not to retaliate against the workers, rejecting the employers’ attempt to use threats of deportation as a weapon to cover up abuse and silence whistleblowers.
  3. That the politicians in whose backyard the abuse took place shift to vocal support for Comprehensive Immigration Reform to prevent future abuse. 

CONTACT:  Stephen Boykewich, 323-594-2347, stephen@guestworkeralliance.org

***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

Florida Guestworkers Expose Severe Labor Abuse

Jamaican guestworkers defy threats of deportation to expose abuse
in backyard of U.S. Reps who oppose immigration reform

WHAT:  Press conference by guestworkers exposing severe labor abuse on Florida’s Emerald Coast

WHO:  Jamaican H-2B guestworker members of the National Guestworker Alliance; allies from labor, clergy, and civil rights communities

WHERE: Florida Press Center, 336 E. College Ave, Tallahassee, FL 32301

WHEN: 11 AM Monday, August 19, 2013

CONTACT:  Stephen Boykewich, 323-594-2347, stephen@guestworkeralliance.org

TALLAHASSEE, FL—On August 19, at 11 a.m., immigrant guestworkers on H-2B visas will defy threats of deportation to expose horrific conditions they endured while they were leased out as housecleaners to luxury condo managers on Florida’s Emerald Coast.

The workers will expose how under the current guestworker system, employers use immigration enforcement to block workers from exposing illegal practices. The workers will call on the U.S. Representatives in the districts where they worked—Reps. Jeff Miller (FL-1) and Steve Southerland (FL-2)—to support a thorough investigation into workplace violations and the threats and retaliation the workers faced. They will also call for a meeting with the Representatives to share their firsthand experience with the guestworker program and the reforms that are needed as part of immigration reform. The workers will then march with their supporters to the Department of Labor to submit an official complaint against their employer.

The workers’ employer, a contractor on Florida’s Emerald Coast, charged the workers thousands of dollars in recruitment fees that plunged their families into debt. He forced them into overcrowded company housing and sub-minimum-wage jobs, then leased them to luxury beach condo managers. When the workers stood up to demand their pay, the employer issued written threats that he would evict them and have them deported by immigration police.

The abuse and threats the workers faced is a clear demonstration of the need for immigration reform with strong worker protections. This exposé comes on the heels of a Friday-night announcement by the Republican National Committee rejecting comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship, and favoring further criminalization of immigrants instead.

The workers will call on Reps. Miller and Southerland to reject this stance and support immigration reform that will prevent future abuse of immigrant workers in their districts and across the United States.

 

The following statement was released by Saket Soni, Executive Director of the National Guestworker Alliance, on June 24, 2013:

We strongly oppose the harsh border militarization measures that have been added to the Senate immigration bill through the Corker-Hoeven Amendment. Further militarization will make border communities less safe, and waste $30 billion of taxpayer money at a time when tens of millions of U.S. workers are struggling to make ends meet.

There are existing amendments that would offset the harms of the Corker-Hoeven Amendment, and the Senate bill needs to incorporate them. These include civil rights protections for people who live in border communities, and whistleblower protections for immigrant guestworkers on H-2B visas.

Without whistleblower protections, the Corker-Hoeven Amendment will make it even easier for employers to trap guestworkers in exploitation, and to trap the U.S. workers alongside them in a race to the bottom. Currently, guestworkers’ legal status is bound to a single employer, letting employers silence worker whistleblowers by threatening firing and deportation. Corker-Hoeven includes harsh penalties on visa overstays that would make employers’ threats even more intimidating. That means more labor abuse, fewer whistleblowers, and falling wages and conditions for U.S. workers. Strong whistleblower protections for H-2B guestworkers would provide a check on this abuse.

We urge senators to open up a path to include these crucial civil and labor rights protections before the bill is finalized. Americans overwhelmingly want immigration reform that protects the rights of all America’s workers, whether immigrant or U.S.-born. U.S. immigration policy needs to reflect that.

CONTACT: Stephen Boykewich, stephen@guestworkeralliance.org, 323-594-2347

Protests Begin in 30+ Countries to Target McDonald’s Labor Abuse

Student guestworker fight from U.S. becomes global campaign against labor abuse, for freedom of association

WHAT:  Global day of action in 30+ countries against McDonald’s labor abuse

WHO:  National Guestworker Alliance members, current and former McDonald’s workers, global unions, and community members

WHERE: McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S., Belgium, Brazil, China, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Paraguay, Philippines, Slovakia, Thailand, Uruguay, and more (see notlovinit.com for details)

WHEN: Thursday, June 6, 2013

CONTACT:  Stephen Boykewich, 323-594-2347, stephen@guestworkeralliance.org

 

NEW YORK, NY—A Global Day of Action against McDonald’s labor abuse began on June 6 with protests in IndonesiaIndia, and Belgium – three of more than 30 countries holding actions over the course of the day.

Workers, international unions, and community members are demanding that McDonald’s take responsibility for ending the abuse of international contract workers at its restaurants, and guarantee all its workers the freedom to organize without threats or retaliation at all 34,000 McDonald’s restaurants worldwide.

The actions mark the three-month anniversary of a historic strike by McDonald’s student guestworkers in the U.S. against labor abuse.

Joining the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA) in organizing the actions are members of national and global unions, students, and human rights organizations including IUF affiliates around the globe, Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales (ProDESC) in Mexico, Ver.di in Germany, New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) in India, and affiliates of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

The March 2013 exposé of McDonald’s labor abuse against student guestworkers in the U.S. created an international media firestorm, from the Wall Street Journal to Argentina’s Misiones.

The students’ strike forced McDonald’s to cut ties with the franchisee where the students worked, but McDonald’s refused to meet with the students about ending labor abuse—even when they delivered 100,000 petitions to the CEO’s doorstep. They and their allies will demand that McDonald’s put an end abuse of international contract labor by signing an agreement with the guestworkers in its restaurants, and guarantee freedom of association for all its workers worldwide.

Cases of labor abuse at McDonald’s show the fast food giant’s failure to set even the most basic labor standards for any of the 1.8 million workers at its 34,000 restaurants around the world. McDonald’s sets standards for its franchise owners on trivial aspects of food presentation—while having no standards to protect the workers who generate $27.6 billion in annual revenue for the corporation.

“McDonald’s used a global labor supply chain to source cheap, exploitable workers from around the world and hold down wages and conditions for U.S. workers,” said Saket Soni, executive director of the NGA. “Now workers have built a global movement to challenge McDonald’s abuse and demand the right to organize against abuse.”

LINKS

 

On Tuesday, May 14, Senator Richard Blumenthal introduced an amendment to Senate immigration bill S.744 to provide whistleblower protections for H-2B guestworkers.

The following statement is by Saket Soni, Executive Director of the National Guestworker Alliance:

We applaud Senator Blumenthal’s critical leadership today in standing up for H-2B guestworkers who blow the whistle on employer abuse—which will also protect the job quality of the 24 million U.S. workers who work alongside H-2Bs in the same sectors. We were encouraged by the clear show of bipartisan support for whistleblower protections by Senators Grassley and Schumer at today’s hearing.

Senator Blumenthal’s amendment would give H-2B whistleblowers the protections they need to expose employer abuse without fear. Without these protections, abusive employers drive down wages and conditions for U.S. workers by pitting them against captive guestworkers in a race to the bottom. But when guestworkers can blow the whistle on abuse, they help secure the job quality of the 24 million U.S. workers in their sectors.

H-2B whistleblower protections are all the more important since S.744 would as much as quadruple the size of the H-2B program over the next four years, from 66,000 workers to 264,000.*

It is crucial that the Senate Judiciary Committee add these vital protections to S.744 in the coming days, for the sake of all America’s workers. We look forward to helping ensure that they do.

FOR NGA STAFF OR GUESTWORKER INTERVIEWS, CONTACT: Stephen Boykewich, stephen@guestworkeralliance.org, 323-594-2347

* See Senate bill S.744, Subtitle F, Sec. 4601, “Extension of Returning Worker Exemption to H-2B Numerical Limitation

Starting on Tuesday, May 14, the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider amendments on guestworker programs in the Senate immigration reform bill S.744.

The following statement is by Saket Soni, Executive Director of the National Guestworker Alliance:

In a U.S. economy where tens of millions are struggling, guestworkers on H-2B visas are trapped at the bottom. These so-called “low skilled” temporary workers are in fields from hospitality to construction to landscaping to food processing. They routinely face severe employer abuse, and retaliation when they try to blow the whistle.

The conditions of these workers—and their ability to come forward as whistleblowers—impacts the job quality of more than 24 million U.S. workers who work alongside them in the same sectors. When employers can get away with exploiting H-2B workers, U.S. workers get trapped in a race to the bottom with captive immigrant workers, and wages and conditions fall for all.

The current Senate immigration bill not only fails to include protections for H-2B whistleblowers, it would as much as quadruple the size of the H-2B program over the next four years, from 66,000 workers to 264,000.*

Big business has pushed hard for access to as many cheap workers as possible in exchange for supporting immigration reform. If we want to ensure that the employers can’t erode wages and conditions for all workers by exploiting guestworkers, we need to protect the guestworker whistleblowers who stand up to abuse and raise the floor for all workers.

Senator Richard Blumenthal has introduced an amendment that would provide protections for H-2B whistleblowers who stand up against employer abuse. It is critical that the Senate immigration bill include these protections—for the future of all America’s workers.

CONTACT: Stephen Boykewich, stephen@guestworkeralliance.org, 323-594-2347

* See Senate bill S.744, Subtitle F, Sec. 4601, “Extension of Returning Worker Exemption to H-2B Numerical Limitation” 24M U.

Whistleblower protections for immigrant workers also protect U.S. workers

WASHINGTON, DC, April 22, 2013—The Senate immigration bill’s inclusion of POWER Act worker protections is a huge victory for immigrant and U.S. workers alike.

Too often, employers use threats of retaliation and deportation to silence immigrant whistleblowers and get away with abuse. Immigrant workers become trapped in captive labor, and U.S. workers are trapped in a race to the bottom as employers use guestworkers to drive down wages and conditions for all.

The Senate bill addresses this by providing crucial protections for whistleblowers so immigrant workers can expose abuse without fear of deportation. The bill also allows immigrant workers to demand back pay and reinstatement when they face retaliatory termination.

  • These protections are crucial for workers like Josue Diaz, who performed dangerous, toxic cleanup work after Hurricane Ike so Texans could return to their homes—then spent 78 days in jail when he protested stolen wages and his employer retaliated by having him arrested.
  • They’re crucial for workers like Delmy Palencia, a mother and member of the Congress of Day Laborers who faces deportation after immigration authorities retaliated against her for standing up against racial profiling and abuse of power by local law enforcement.
  • They’re crucial for workers like Mary and Pat, National Alliance of Domestic Workers members who worked around the clock, facing isolation, low wages, threats, and even physical violence.
  • They’re crucial for workers like Jorge Rios, a J-1 guestworker who faced severe exploitation at McDonald’s and threats of deportation when he spoke up.
  • Such protections are overdue for workers at Corinthian Contractors employed on a pipeline project for DC Water who organized to demand their legal mandated wage, only to have ICE used in retaliation against them, leaving over half of the workers fired and key worker-leaders in deportation proceedings.

 

Only strong workers can build a strong economy. We look forward to preserving and strengthening POWER Act worker protections as immigration reform moves forward.

ABOUT: The POWER Campaign seeks to ensure the basic civil and labor rights of immigrant workers who organize to end exploitation, and to ensure that U.S. workers’ wages and conditions are not undermined by employers who pit them against a captive workforce of exploited immigrant workers. The POWER Campaign includes Jobs with Justice, the National Guestworker Alliance, the National Day Laborers Organizing Network, the United Workers Congress, and the National Immigration Law Center.

CONTACTS: Liz Cattaneo, lcattaneo@americanrightsatwork.org, 202-822-2127 x104

Stephen Boykewich, stephen@guestworkeralliance.org, 323-594-2347


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