Category: RokStories

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,, 323-673-1307

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,, 323-673-1307

May 2, 2017–Chinese migrant workers are standing up against wage theft and labor abuse on the U.S. Commonwealth of Saipan.

The workers for the Chinese construction company Gold Mantis helped build a $500 million casino for Hong Kong-based Imperial Pacific. Although Saipan is a U.S. territory, the federal minimum wage is only $6.55. And the Gold Mantis workers have not even received this wage.

When the U.S. government began investigating labor trafficking, unsafe working conditions leading to worker deaths, sub-minimum wages, and other workplace violations, Gold Mantis fired its workers and refused to pay their wages for work they have already completed.

Watch the Video: We Want Our Wages, Not Cigarettes

The U.S. Department of Labor is investigating multiple contractors on the Imperial Pacific site for minimum wage and overtime violations. One contractor has settled with a portion of their construction worker employees, but Gold Mantis has instead hired multiple law firms and public relations consultants, presumably paying them hundreds of dollars an hour, while it refuses to pay its workers any of the wages they are owed.

On May Day, a Gold Mantis attorney visited the workers’ living quarters, calling the issue a humanitarian matter and offering the workers cigarettes.

The workers in the video demand: “We want our legally earned wages. Not cigarettes.”

In advance of May Day, the workers held marches and wrote to the Chinese Consulate urging their government to ensure that Gold Mantis pay their unpaid wages.

Take Action

For more on the campaign, follow @GoldMantisLabor on Twitter or email

Workers also ask their allies to contact Gold Mantis in China or its public relations firm in the U.S. and urge them to pay the workers all wages owed immediately.

Gold Mantis

Robert Gemmill, Esq.
(202) 973-1315

Selected Media Coverage:


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.”

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