Category: RokStories

March 12, 2014

The world watches the US on labor abuse – op-ed

The Hill

By Jennifer J. Rosenbaum

On March 13, the United Nations Human Rights Committee will meet for a two-day review of U.S. compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights—and our nation’s representatives will have some explaining to do.

In the run-up to the review, labor and civil rights organizations in ten countries that send migrant workers to the U.S. have joined 29 U.S.-based groups in writing to the UN committee to sound the alarm about violations of fundamental human rights of migrants when they are in the U.S. These groups are asking the UN committee to press the United States over the grim reality migrant workers here have faced for decades: employers who subject migrant workers to severe labor abuse, then use immigration enforcement as a weapon to intimidate, lock away, or deport victims and witnesses to hide the abuse.

Iconic U.S. corporations are profiting from such abuse. Case in point: in late February, the Department of Labor awarded $205,977 in back wages and liquidated damages to former student guestworkers at McDonald’s restaurants in Pennsylvania, and to the U.S. workers alongside them.

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In March 2014, the United Nations will review the U.S. record under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Please join the NGA in urging the United Nations Human Rights Commission to demand that the U.S. stop “deporting the evidence” and offer reliable and enforceable protections to migrant workers who expose labor and human rights violations.

Deporting the Evidence: Aug 2013 Report (PDF)

This report exposes the ways in which the United States is “deporting the evidence,” by arresting, detaining, and removing individuals engaged in defending themselves and their communities against serious violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In some cases, the state uses immigration enforcement to retaliate against persons who expose governmental abuses of civil and political rights. In other cases, the state cooperates with private actors who use immigration enforcement to hide their own unlawful behavior. Not only do these actions by the United States directly violate the ICCPR, they also prevent human rights abuses from being exposed or verified because victims and witnesses are intimidated, locked away, or removed from the country.

International Sign-on Letter to UN Human Rights Committee (PDF)

U.S. Sign-on Letter to UN Human Rights Committee (PDF)

After the publication of Deporting the Evidence, 29 U.S. civil, labor, and human rights organizations and leading academics wrote to the UN Human Rights Committee, urging it to direct the United States to adopt new measures to bring its immigration enforcement policies into compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Tell the UN Human Rights Committee: Don’t let the U.S. “deport the evidence” of labor and human rights abuse!

Officials at N.C. company International Labor Management are charged with visa fraud

The Washington Post – Feb. 20, 2014

By Ken Otterbourg

VASS, N.C. — In 2008, Stanley Porter started a small company called Winterscapes LLC with a fake purpose: bringing in 150 foreign workers under the H-2B visa program to be snow makers in the mountains of North Carolina.

But some of the workers didn’t even know what a snow maker was. Once they arrived, most moved to landscaping companies that were clients of Porter’s and had not gone through the proper application process for hiring foreign workers.

Porter pleaded guilty to visa fraud and money laundering last year. But the case has now ensnared a much larger firm, In­ternational Labor Management , which for years has been a major player in the business of connecting U.S. employers with foreign workers for seasonal jobs. And federal officials say the company has been gaming the visa system for years, helping businesses skirt the law.

In a 41-count indictment filed late last month in U.S. District Court in Greensboro, N.C., federal officials accused International Labor’s founder, Craig Eury Jr., and his daughter, Sarah Farrell, of falsifying applications to obtain more worker visas than were needed and then dispensing them to companies that had not qualified to use the foreign employees.

Such temporary workers are in some ways a halfway point between the agricultural workers and the skilled tech workers who grab much of the attention in the battle over immigration reform, but they have become a critical part of many industries, including landscaping, state fairs, forest management and construction.

The government is seeking to seize from Eury at least $1.1 million that it says is tied to the alleged illegal activities. He faces a single count in the indictment and could be sent to prison for 10 years if convicted. The remaining 40 counts are against Farrell, whom the indictment accuses of coordinating most of the visa applications. Each count against her carries at least a 10-year prison sentence. Ripley Rand, the U.S. attorney for North Carolina’s Middle District, declined to comment on the indictment, citing a desire not to jeopardize court proceedings.

Defense attorney Kearns Davis said his clients deny the government’s allegations. Davis said in a statement that International Labor “has assisted hundreds of businesses across the country in navigating the complex guest-worker bureaucracy and paperwork process. In an industry that is closely scrutinized and politicized, they do the right thing for employers and guest workers while carefully following the law.”

Number inflation alleged

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services administers several programs for guest workers. The H-2A program is for agricultural workers. The H-2B program is for seasonal nonagricultural labor and is capped at 66,000 workers. Unlike H-2A workers, employees in the H-2B program are not provided housing. About two-thirds of H-2B workers come from Mexico.

The indictment says International Labor inflated the number of H-2B visas that its clients needed and then diverted the extra workers to employers who did not have government clearance. According to the indictment, there were more than 700 visa applications in the suspect pool, and the conspiracy ran from 2006 through February 2013.

In Porter’s case, the indictment says, Farrell worked with him on the fraudulent visa applications for the snow-making workers and later for janitorial workers who were also being diverted to landscaping positions.

After pleading guilty, Porter was sentenced to a year in prison and fined $100,000. He also pleaded guilty to a count of money laundering, which the government said happened when he wrote a check for $14,000 to International Labor. He is cooperating with federal prosecutors.

In the H-2B program, employers need to demonstrate that U.S. citizens do not want the jobs for which they are seeking foreign workers. They often fulfill that obligation by working with state employment offices, running help-wanted ads in newspapers and seeing who responds. The indictment says that International Labor coached employers on how to interview U.S. citizens for these positions in such a way that their hiring was suppressed.

International Labor was started in 1994. At the time, Eury was already well known in North Carolina for his work with the North Carolina Growers Association, which bills itself as the country’s largest procurer of foreign agricultural workers. The growers group is not part of this case, but the businesses are next to each other on the outskirts of the small town of Vass, which sits near the back of the sprawling Fort Bragg military installation in the state’s Sandhills region.

Despite the indictment against Eury and Farrell, International Labor is still operating. A woman who answered the door at the firm declined to answer questions.

Abuse is called common

Criminal prosecutions for H-2B violations are rare, said Jennifer Rosenbaum, the legal director for the National Guestworker Alliance, based in New Orleans. But she said that abuse of the program is common, with employers asking for more workers than they need and requesting the workers for periods far past when there is no longer any work for them to do. Both actions inflate the size of the labor pool and reduce workers’ ability to advocate for better pay and working conditions, she said.

Being moved to different employers is common as well, Rosenbaum said. This underscores the imbalance in the ­employee-employer relationship, she said, as guest workers cannot go in search of jobs on their own. Employees in the H-2B program, unlike H-2A workers, are not provided housing, reducing an employer’s costs and the incentive to provide sufficient hours for all workers, Rosenbaum said.

“This case takes a comprehensive look at how companies are gaming the system to disadvantage U.S. and foreign workers as well as companies that play by the rules,” she said.

Craig Regelbrugge, the senior vice president for industry advocacy and research at AmericanHort, the trade group for the horticultural and landscape industry, said the vast majority of companies that use foreign workers or act as procurement agents follow the rules strictly. “But there are a few bad apples, and the bad apples hurt everybody,” he said.

The cap has not been reached since the recession that began in 2008, according to statistics from Citizenship and Immigration Services. Regelbrugge said that is because hiring was down in many of the businesses that employ seasonal workers and also because higher domestic unemployment pushed many Americans to take seasonal jobs that they might have refused in better times. This year, he said, with the economy improving, the cap is again coming into play.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/officials-at-nc-company-are-indicted-for-falsifying-visas-in-guest-worker-program/2014/02/20/f30b1a1a-9985-11e3-b931-0204122c514b_story.html

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.”


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