Posts Tagged ‘H2B regulations’

Court upholds DOL rule to protect wages for H2B and US workers – 2-10-14

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.”

Jamaican Guestworkers Protest Alleged Abuse from Panhandle Employer – WMBB – 9/4/13

Jamaican Guestworkers Protest Alleged Abuse from Panhandle Employer
WMBB

Addie Hampton
September 4, 2013

WMBB News 13 – The Panhandle’s News Leader

Jamaican Guest workers here on a visa are alleging abuse from their cleaning company employers; at times, paying them nothing despite two weeks of hard labor.

News 13 attended a protest outside Edgewater Beach Resort where the National Guestworker Alliance joined in the fight for immigration reform.

The workers were crying out for employer accountability from the subcontractor, Mr. Clean Cleaning Service of Destin. and the resort companies who contracted them.

They say they were promised the American Dream, but that quickly escalated into a nightmare.

When Denise Gardener signed on to clean luxury condos in America, she believed she’d make enough money to support her family in Jamaica.

“We were promised in Jamaica that we would get overtime, make a lot of money, 40 hours per week and when we came here it was different. Nothing like that,” said Gardener.

Instead, she said she was caught in a web of debt that began with an expensive work visa to get here, cuts in hours and no discernable pay check despite hard work.

“I pay over two thousand US (dollars) to come here and sometimes when I got my paycheck, sometimes it would be two hundred dollars for a fortnight,” she said.

Hired by subcontractor Ray Villanova and Destin Cleaning Company, Mr. Clean, she said she and others were put in crowded company housing at 300 dollars a month, often leaving them with a zero on their pay stub.

“Zero dollars…I was wondering what this is, what is this for. I don’t know, but I do know this man is cruel. He’s cruel to us,” cried Gardener.

News 13 contacted Villanova via telephone on Wednesday for his side, but he could not be reached.

Protestors allege this is human trafficking; a serious issue, but is this the case?

News 13 contacted Homeland Security’s resident agent in charge who pointed us to the definition of IN-voluntary servitude. Meaning, if they can leave the job or the country, it’s not trafficking.

It doesn’t make it right, said officials with the National Guestworker Alliance. They’ve filled federal complaints against a company they said were making threats.

“Mr. Clean stapled a letter onto their paycheck saying that the Sheriff and Local Ice agents would show up at their door. Evict them from the company housing and send them back to Jamaica where they would be in debt with no hope of getting out of it,” said Jacob Horowitz of the NGA.

News 13 mentioned Edgewater Beach Resort as the location of the protest.

A press release to News 13 indicated they new nothing of the alleged abuse and if they turned out to be true, they will sever ties with Mr. Clean and any future business opportunities.

PHOTOS: Guest workers protest job conditions – The News Herald – 9/4/2013

Guest workers protest job conditions
The News Herald

Randal Yakey
September 4, 2013


(Click the image for a full gallery of photos from the event)

PANAMA CITY BEACH — Guest workers from Jamaica said they were harassed, shortchanged and threatened with deportation if they failed to show up for work, where they were contract employees of Mister Clean Laundry and Cleaning Service.

National Guestworker Alliance (NGA) lead organizer Jacob Horwitz said the workers were recruited by Reynaldo Villanueva, owner and operator of Destin-based Mister Clean Cleaning Services.

Horwitz said Villanueva recruited the workers from Jamaica and threatened them with deportation if they did not do what they were told without complaint.

“These are workers who were charged and spent over $2,000 in recruitment fees and costs for H-2B visas and were put up in company housing and slept on the floor,” Horwitz said.

H-2B is a guest worker visa.

“Some were getting paychecks as small as zero dollars because of deductions from their paychecks,” Horwitz said. “When the workers protested, the answer was a threat stapled to their paychecks.”

They said the most recent flyer stapled to their paychecks said that any worker who didn’t show up for work would be removed from “Mister Clean Housing” and “You will be escorted to pick up your plane ticket to go back to Jamaica. You will have an ICE or Okaloosa County Sheriff Department escort.”

ICE refers to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The NGA has asked the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate the case.

Villanueva refused to speak at length on the issue, asking inquiries be sent to him in writing. “These are false allegations,” he said Wednesday in a brief phone interview.

Deneise Gardener, of Montego Bay, Jamaica, said she was forced to live in squalor in a two-bedroom apartment with six other people in Panama City — sometimes without utilities.

“When I came here, we were sleeping on the floor, no utilities, and when we asked about our pay, he (Villanueva) said he was going to get ICE to throw us out of the country,” Gardener said.

The NGA has charged the number of workers per apartment has gone as high as 10 and 15 people.

Gardener said she came to Florida to save enough money to help her family back in Jamaica.

“I was working as a housekeeper here at Edgewater” Beach and Golf Resort, Gardener said. “Sometimes we would get no pay at all for weeks.”

Paul Wohlford, vice president of the Resort Collection, which includes Edgewater Beach and Golf Resort, issued a statement Wednesday saying the resorts provide “ethical, quality working environment and strives to make sure employees are treated fairly.”

“We do not condone unfair labor practices of any kind and we had zero knowledge of how these employees were treated; they were contracted through Mr. Clean, a contract labor company based in Destin, Fl.”

The statement added that if the allegations are true, The Resort Collection will stop doing business with Mr. Clean.

According to complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, the guest workers were required to pay between $1,800 and $2,500 each in mandatory pre-employment expenses. NGA’s lawyer contended the practice is illegal.

The Jamaican workers were supposed to be paid between $8.50 and $9 an hour. Most of them did not get anywhere close to that, Horwitz said.

Villanueva deducted from the employees’ paychecks transportation costs, visa expenses, uniforms, criminal background checks, medical checks, housing administration fees, first and last month’s rent and workers’ compensation insurance, according to the Labor Department complaint.

“They were indentured servants,” Horwitz said. “They deducted everything from their paychecks.”

The guest worker program only allows for the worker to work for one employer. If they did not stay with the current employer, they would have to be removed for the country, Horwitz said.

“They were trapped,” Horwitz said.

http://www.newsherald.com/news/business/guest-workers-protest-job-conditions-photo-gallery-1.197541?page=0

Protect rights of immigrant whistle-blowers – CNN Op-Ed by Saket Soni

Protect rights of immigrant whistle-blowers
CNN

Saket Soni
June 25, 2013

Last week, federal immigration authorities seized more than a dozen 7-Eleven stores in New York and Virginia. Authorities charged that the stores’ franchisees “brutally exploited” more than 50 undocumented immigrant workers. The workers allegedly worked up to 100 hours a week, for as little as $3 an hour. They were forced to live in housing the employers owned and controlled, authorities said.

For many, it was a shock. An iconic American corporation was allegedly profiting from what the U.S. attorney’s office called a “modern-day plantation system.” Prosecutors are seeking $30 million in forfeiture, not only from the franchisees but also from the 7-Eleven parent corporation.

The real shock should be how common cases such as this have become.

Millions of immigrant workers are uniquely vulnerable to abuse, because employers can threaten them with retaliatory firing and deportation to silence complaints. In this context, the allegations that 7-Eleven ran a “plantation system” for 13 years sounds more plausible.

Consider: In March, workers from several nations filed federal complaints describing similar exploitation at McDonald’s restaurants in central Pennsylvania. The workers, students who had come to the United States with J-1 visas to work under the Summer Work Travel Program, reported brutal conditions, wage theft and shifts of up to 25 hours straight with no overtime pay. They said they were made to live in substandard housing owned by the employer, and faced threats of deportation when they raised concerns.

In June 2012, another group of immigrant workers alleged forced labor at a Louisiana Walmart supplier called C.J.’s Seafood. Supervisors threatened to beat them with a shovel, they said, to make them work faster, and when they spoke up, the boss allegedly threatened violence against their families.

Recent debate on the Senate floor also recalled an emblematic 2011 case of exploitation at a Hershey’s Chocolate packing plant in Pennsylvania. There, immigrant guest workers said in a federal complaint that they earned subminimum wage take-home pay and faced constant threats of firing and deportation.

Among the many similarities in these cases, most striking is that all four came to light because immigrant workers defied threats and blew the whistle. When they did, they stood up not just for themselves, but for U.S. workers as well.

In a recent national survey of 1,000 registered voters by CAMBIO (a coalition of pro-reform groups of which the National Guestworker Alliance is a member), 75% agreed that “if employers are allowed to get away with mistreating immigrant workers, it ends up lowering wages and hurting conditions for American workers as well.” Eighty percent agreed that “immigrant workers who blow the whistle on abusive employers are helping defend workplace standards, and should have the opportunity to stay in the U.S. to work toward citizenship.”

Right now, protections for immigrant whistle-blowers are weak. Immigration and Customs Enforcement routinely ignores a memorandum from its director, John Morton, allowing it not to pursue deportation against whistle-blowers. In New Orleans, 26 workers who helped expose exploitation in the Louisiana home elevation industry were arrested in an immigration raid in August 2011, and most are still fighting their deportations today. Across the country, workers who have been the victims of exploitation — and have come forward to stop it — are treated as disposable.

Immigration reform needs to change that. First, as the bill moves through the Senate and on to the House of Representatives, it needs to include provisions that deliver dignity at work to the more than 7 million immigrant workers in the United States — and that keep the floor from falling for the 150 million U.S.-born workers who work alongside them. A bill called the POWER Act would provide the key protections to both. It needs to be included in the immigration reform bill.

Second, immigration reform must deliver equal rights to all immigrant workers, so that unscrupulous employers can’t pick and choose the most exploitable workers to undercut the competition. All immigrant workers who come to the United States through future guest-worker programs must have strong whistle-blower protections and the right to change employers as freely as any worker on American shores.

Raising the floor for the immigrant workers at the bottom of the U.S. economy means building a stronger, more secure economy for all workers. That’s why protecting immigrant workers doesn’t just matter for immigrants. It matters for every worker in America.

 http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/25/opinion/soni-immigration-7-eleven/index.html

Wal-Mart supply chain workers to crash “ethical sourcing” forum

Wal-Mart supply chain workers to crash “ethical sourcing” forum

WASHINGTON, D.C.—On Wednesday, Sep. 19, 2012, at 11:20am, workers who have exposed forced labor and severe exploitation on the Wal-Mart supply chain will demand the chance to address a Wal-Mart sponsored “ethical sourcing” forum.

Two workers will offer media a briefing on their experiences of forced labor, retaliation, and severe exploitation on the Wal-Mart supply chain: Ana Rosa Diaz, a former guestworker who exposed forced labor at Wal-Mart supplier C.J.’s Seafood, and Javier Rodriguez, one of the warehouse workers on strike from Wal-Mart contractors NFI and Warestaff, supported by Warehouse Workers United.

The workers and their allies will then demand entrance to Walmart’s “multi-stakeholder forum” on how to “accelerate the adoption of measures to improve ethical sourcing in US Agriculture and Aquaculture supply chains.”

Wal-Mart has ignored dozens of requests from workers across Wal-Mart’s supply chain to take responsibility for ending exploitation on its supply chain. Nearly 150,000 supporters have signed on to the workers’ requests.

Instead, Wal-Mart attempted a highly publicized cover-up in the case of CJ’s Seafood, hired PR and lobbying firms to do damage control, and has refused any meeting with the workers.

Wal-Mart’s latest PR move is Wednesday’s “multi-stakeholder forum,” from which directly affected workers have been excluded—further confirmation that Wal-Mart regards severe exploitation on its supply chain not as a problem to be solved, but as an embarrassment to be swept under the rug.

WHAT: Wal-Mart supply chain workers crash Wal-Mart “ethical sourcing” forum

WHEN: Wednesday, Sep. 19, 11:20am

WHERE: Washington Hilton, 1919 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.

Gather on the 2nd floor conference area near the T St. entrance—enter at street level on T St. between Connecticut Ave. & Florida Ave.

CONTACT: Stephen Boykewich, 718-791-9162, stephen@guestworkeralliance.org


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