Category: Press Statements

On February 18, 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor vindicated the J-1 student guestworker members of the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA) who went on strike from McDonald’s restaurants in Central Pennsylvania in March 2013. The USDOL cited the McDonald’s franchisee for minimum wage violations against 291 fast food workers, awarding them $205,977 in back wages and liquidated damages.

Below is a statement by NGA Executive Director Saket Soni:

Credit: Christine Baker | pennlive.com

Today, some of the most vulnerable workers in America—immigrant guestworkers—won a major victory not only for themselves, but for the U.S. workers alongside them. Brave student guestworkers from Argentina, Malaysia, and other countries defied threats of retaliation and went on strike to end the severe exploitation they faced at McDonald’s stores last year, including sub-minimum wage pay, unpaid overtime, and overpriced company housing. These NGA members won $205,977 in back wages and damages not only for the 178 guestworkers who worked at these McDonald’s stores, but for 113 U.S. fast food workers alongside them, including formerly incarcerated people and political refugees.

This victory comes as tens of thousands of McDonald’s workers around the U.S. are demanding a living wage of $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation. McDonald’s must meet those demands.

But this victory also shows that raising wages is not enough. As long as employers like McDonald’s can use threats of retaliation and deportation to exploit immigrant workers, the wages and conditions of the U.S. workers alongside them will never be secure. But by protecting the right to organize for the most vulnerable workers, we help raise the floor for every worker in the U.S.

President Obama stressed in his State of the Union that he’s ready to take executive action to combat income inequality. That action needs to include protections for immigrant workers who come forward to expose abuse from retaliatory deportation.

And now that the DOL has vindicated these workers, McDonald’s corporate can’t hide behind its franchisee and wash its hands of the abuse. McDonald’s must:

  1. Conduct an audit of its franchisees and reveal where else guestworkers are working so that NGA can ensure they are free from abuse;
  2. Publicly commit that when any McDonald’s franchisee commits wage theft or other labor law violations, McDonald’s corporate will take responsibility by making the workers whole and punishing the franchisee; and
  3. Meet the nationwide demand for a $15 an hour wage and the right to form a union without retaliation.

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

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently upheld the right of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to set prevailing wages in the H-2B guestworker program.

Below is a statement by Jennifer J. Rosenbaum, Legal Director of the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA):

workers“The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirms the critical role of the Department of Labor, and shows that DOL was right all along: raising the prevailing wages for employers in the H-2B program is necessary to protect job quality for all workers—both guestworkers and the U.S. workers alongside them. The NGA has fought continuously to make sure that prevailing wages for H-2B employers are fair to all workers, and that employers don’t further disadvantage U.S. workers by taking unlawful deductions or kick-backs.”

“The Obama Administration’s Department of Labor, under previous Secretary Hilda Solis and now under Secretary Tom Perez, has shown balanced leadership by proposing critical regulations that level the playing field for the more than 24 million workers in key H-2B sectors. Both the wage rule and the comprehensive rule are balanced compromises, and are critical to protect guestworkers and the U.S. workers who work alongside them. Now Congress needs to stop blocking implementation of the DOL’s comprehensive H-2B regulations, which prohibit employer retaliation against workers who expose exploitation by H-2B employers and prohibit temporary staffing agencies from using the program to undercut U.S. workers.”

NGA co-founder and leader Daniel Castellanos said:

“The court has caught up with what thousands of guestworkers have been saying since Hurricane Katrina: to stop exploitation in guestworker programs, we need higher prevailing wages, and we need protections from employer retaliation to make sure that the rules of the program are enforced.”

Guestworkers March on Beach Resort Where They Exposed Labor Abuse

Jamaican guestworkers in FL demand Edgewater Beach Resort make them whole

WHAT:  Press conference by guestworkers who exposed severe labor abuse in Panama City and Destin, FL
WHO:  Jamaican H-2B guestworker members of the National Guestworker Alliance; civil rights, labor, and community leaders
WHEN: 12 PM Wednesday, Sep. 4, 2013
WHERE: Edgewater Beach Resort, 11212 Front Beach Road, Panama City Beach, FL 32407
CONTACT:  Stephen Boykewich, 323-594-2347, stephen@guestworkeralliance.org

PANAMA CITY, FL—On Wednesday, Sep. 4, Jamaican guestworkers who exposed severe labor abuse and faced threats of deportation for speaking out will march on Edgewater Beach Resort in Panama City, one of the properties where they faced abuse. Together with civil rights, labor, and community allies, they will demand that Edgewater’s management and other property managers who profited from the abuse make the workers whole by paying them all the money they are owed.

Workers and allies will also call on U.S. Rep Steve Sutherland, in whose district the abuse took place, to meet with the workers, support their struggle, and return the donation he received from Edgewater and other property managers that profited from worker abuse.

As the New York Times wrote on Monday, guestworkers from Jamaica came forward in late August 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 Jamaican guestworkers 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 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 U.S. Reps. Steve Southerland and Jeff Miller, in whose backyard the abuse took place.

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

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.

Download:

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.


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