ICE Helps Unscrupulous Employer Shaft Injured Worker

by Paul Garver

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Rosa Benitez with her 2 year old son missing her partner and his father Jose Flores

/After working three decades as a union organizer in the USA and assisting unions to organize in other countries, I thought that nothing ruthless and callous employers in collusion with corrupt governments could shock me anymore.

I was wrong.   This story makes my stomach churn and my blood boil.   It appeared on WBUR, the PBS news outlet in Boston, and shared with me by the Metrowest Worker Center in Framingham, MA.   Thanks to WBUR for its extensive and ongoing news coverage on issues relating to immigration, I quote its report in full here:

“Thirty-seven-year-old Jose Flores and his longtime partner, Rosa Benitez, have been living in Massachusetts for almost seven years. The Honduran nationals both entered the United States by illegally crossing the Southern border.

Benitez, 40 and with tired eyes, says she and Flores had to leave Honduras because of the violence.

‘I Came Here To Fight For My Family’

“Like all of the immigrants arriving from other countries,” she said in Spanish, “I came here to fight for my family. That’s why I’m here. Honduras is terrorized by gangs. I can’t live there. My dad was killed by the gangs. They threatened him and told him to pay a fee, but he didn’t pay it.”

The couple has five children together, three of whom are U.S.-born citizens. The oldest is 17 and the youngest is 2 years old. Benitez says since Flores was arrested by federal immigration agents last week, all of the children are scared and asking when their dad is coming home.

The family has had no income for two months. Flores, the sole provider, hasn’t been able to work since the end of March when he fell off a ladder at a job site, breaking his femur bone in his leg and undergoing several subsequent surgeries. After consulting with attorneys, and even though he’s living here illegally, Flores sought compensation from the Boston-based construction company he was working for.

Stacie Sobosik is a workers’ compensation attorney who’s advising Flores, and she says he’s within his rights. “Under case law in Massachusetts, undocumented workers are eligible for the same benefits as any other worker injured in the state,” she said.

Sobosik says she works with plenty of clients who are in the country without documentation and often they’re hesitant to report workplace accidents. The fear is that doing so will result in retaliation from employers in the form of a call to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“And we’ve always been able to tell clients,” Sobosik said, “ICE has better things to do, bigger fish to fry, than to come after an injured worker because their boss has reported them.”

But that’s exactly what Sobosik believes happened to Flores.

Fears Bosses Could Retaliate Against Some Immigrant Workers

Sobosik says she could not have expected what would take place when Flores’ boss offered some cash to help the family and arranged a meeting.

“The employer told this worker where to be, at exactly what time, and immigration was waiting,” Sobosik explained.

Lawyers for Flores say it’s still unclear whether the employer — who, it turns out, had no workers’ comp coverage on the day of Flores’ accident — arranged the arrest that day.

The company, Tara Construction, has declined to comment.

“… Now we have this added fear that, could an employer … use someone’s immigration situation against them?”

Christina Corbaci, an immigration lawyer

Because Flores has orders to be deported back to Honduras, ICE agents had the authority to take him into custody. But the concern for Flores’ immigration attorney, Christina Corbaci, is that this could signal another new enforcement approach by ICE under President Trump.

“Before, I wouldn’t have really had a concern telling someone, ‘Yes, you should go ahead to report something like this and assert your rights,’ ” Corbaci said. “But now we have this added fear that, could an employer in this kind of case just, you know, use someone’s immigration situation against them?”

In an emailed statement, an ICE spokesman said he wouldn’t comment on specific work methods for security reasons. He did say, however, that ICE receives investigative leads and tips from a variety of sources, and through many means and methods.

Flores remains in custody at the Suffolk County House of Corrections. As for the workers’ comp claim, Sobosik, the attorney, says the case is active.

“He’s clearly going to be disabled for quite awhile into the future, his doctors have said at least six months,” she said. “If he stays in the States that long, he should still be eligible, but what happens if he’s deported? That’s a big question mark. We don’t know.”

And his partner doesn’t know what to expect either.

Sitting at the kitchen table with her 2-year-old son playing in the background, Benitez says despite the hardships, she has no regrets about coming to the U.S.

That’s because, she said in Spanish, “This is a country of opportunity … where the voice of one person can be heard.”

The Metrowest Worker Center is an advocate for Jose Fores and for many hundreds of undocumented workers in the Boston area who are routinely cheated of their wages, subjected to dangerous working conditions, and threatened by the criminally negligent employers and sub-contractors who hire them.  With limited resources, this Worker Center, like unions and worker centers around the globe, do what they humanly can. It is raising funds to support Jose Flores, Rosa Benitez and their children at

http://www.mwc-casa.org/home-and-news/injured-worker-detained-by-ice-in-retaliation

UPDATE   5/23 from Diego Low of the Metrowest Worker Center:

The injured worker detained by ICE at the instigation of his employer, Tara Construction, is back with his family.    He was released around noon today under a temporary stay of deportation while investigations proceed regarding his employers retaliation for reporting the injury and pursuing workers comp.  We will continue to pursue sanctions against the employer and to stabilize the status of the worker and his family.  The worker is likely to need at least six months to heal from the workplace injury.   We hope to get the crowd funding site updated so as to raise funds for the substantial legal fees the family is facing.

May Day Message – Richard Trumka

Richard Trumka; AFL-CIO

Throughout North America and globally, May 1 is a day to remember and respect workers’ rights as human rights. As working people take to the streets in communities around the world, a quieter but equally important movement of workers on both sides of the United States–Mexico border has been growing.

Whatever language we speak and wherever we call home, working people are building power, supporting labor rights and fighting corruption—and we’re doing it together.

Our agenda is simple. We oppose efforts to divide and disempower working people, and we oppose border walls and xenophobia anywhere and everywhere. We want trade laws that benefit working people, not corporations. And we want economic rules that raise wages, broaden opportunity and hold corporations accountable.

Nearly 20 years ago, many independent and democratic Mexican unions began an alliance with the AFL-CIO.

We’ve developed a good working relationship. We’ve engaged in important dialogue and identified shared priorities. Now we are ready to take our solidarity to the next level, turning words into deeds and plans into action.

You see, we believe no fundamental difference exists between us. We share common values rooted in social justice and a common vision of the challenges before us.

The corporate elite in the United States and Mexico have been running roughshod over working people for too long. Corporate-written trade and immigration policies have hurt workers on both sides of the border.  We each have experienced the devastation caused by economic rules written by and for the superrich.

 

Those of us in the United States can see how unfair economic policies have destroyed Mexico’s small farms and pushed many Mexicans to make the perilous trek north or settle in dangerous cities. Many in Mexico are worried about their own families, some of whom might be immigrants in the United States today. Workers in the United States share their concern, especially as anti-immigrant sentiment has become disturbingly mainstream.

The truth is more and more politicians are exploiting the insecurity and pain caused by corporate economic rules for political gain by stoking hatred and scapegoating Mexicans and other Latin American immigrants.

We will not be divided like this. Workers north and south of the border find the idea of a border wall to be offensive and stand against the criminalization of immigrant workers. We need real immigration reform that keeps families together, raises labor standards and gives a voice to all workers.

Instead of erecting walls, American and Mexican leaders should focus on rewriting the economic rules so working people can get ahead and have a voice in the workplace. One of our top priorities is to transform trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement into a tool for raising wages and strengthening communities in both countries.

We’re outraged by the kidnapping and murder of the 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College, as well as too many other atrocities to list.

America’s unions are democratic in nature and independent of both business and government, but that’s mostly not true in Mexico. A key step in ending violence and impunity in Mexico and raising wages and standards on both sides of the border is to protect union rights and the freedom of association in Mexico.

We’re united. We’re resolute. We are ready to win dignity and justice for all workers.

Posted on the AFL-CIO website.

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Did someone just say “Industrial Policy”?

by Stan Sorscher

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Let’s take a breath and step back from our circus-like introduction to the Trump era.

A few weeks ago, we were trying to decode voters’ messages in the US and UK. Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and millions of voters said we have lost trust in the way we’ve managed globalization. Brexit and the US presidential campaigns broke the spell we had been under during 20 years of neoliberal free trade orthodoxy. Even before the election, growing public opposition had worn away support for TPP, the 12-country trade deal. TPP failed because our free trade approach to globalization is exhausted.

Decades of neoliberal market fundamentalism had conditioned us to accept millions of lost jobs, reduced bargaining power for workers, deindustrialization, stagnant wages, and unchecked climate change.

We are ready for a new approach that would balance trade and share the gains from globalization. Labor, environment, and other civil society groups have specific goals – deal with inequality, climate change, access to medicine, food security, internet freedom, and other non-economic issues at home and abroad.

Donald Trump openly endorses industrial policy. To me, “industrial policy” means intervening in markets to prevent or correct market failures. For decades, it was the policy that could not be named in Washington DC. Industrial policy is the conceptual opposite of neoliberal free market – free trade orthodoxy.

Industrial policies can be good or bad. Good ones can serve legitimate national interests and bad ones cause grief – just like good or bad policies for health care, banking, infrastructure, and education. Good industrial policies can help us manage globalization better.

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6 Ways We Could Improve NAFTA for Working People

 by Jackie Tortora

6 Ways We Could Improve NAFTA for Working People

For years we’ve talked about the shortcomings of the North American Free Trade Agreement (we even released this detailed report on its 20th anniversary) and how trade deals created behind closed doors with corporate CEOs harm working people.

Today we released a blueprint for how to rewrite NAFTA to benefit working families. This past election there was much-needed discussion on the impact of corporate trade deals on our manufacturing sector and on working-class communities. The outline below puts forward real solutions that should garner bipartisan support if lawmakers are truly serious about realigning our trade policies to help workers.

We need a different direction on trade. This movement has been largely driven by working people. As we approach the inauguration of a new president, it is important that everyday working people’s perspectives lead the debate, starting with how to rewrite NAFTA.

 The AFL-CIO has long supported rewriting the rules of NAFTA to provide more equitable outcomes for working families. To date, the biggest beneficiaries of NAFTA have been multinational corporations, which have gained by destroying middle-class jobs in the U.S. and Canada and replacing them with exploitative, sweatshop jobs in Mexico. It doesn’t have to be this way. With different rules, NAFTA could become a tool to raise wages and working conditions in all three North American countries, rather than to lower them.

Key Areas for Improvement

1. Eliminate the private justice system for foreign investors.

NAFTA established a private justice system for foreign investors, thereby prioritizing corporate rights over citizens’ rights, giving corporations even more influence over our economy than they already have. This private justice system, known as investor-state dispute settlement, or ISDS, allows foreign investors to challenge local, state and federal laws before private panels of corporate lawyers. Although these lawyers are not accountable to the public, they are empowered to decide cases and award vast sums of taxpayer money to foreign businesses. Under NAFTA, these panels have awarded millions of dollars to corporations when local and state governments exercise their jurisdictional power to deny things such as municipal building permits for toxic waste processing facilities. ISDS gives foreign investors enormous leverage to sway public policies in their favor. Scrapping the entire system would help level the playing field for small domestic producers and their employees.

2. Strengthen the labor and environment obligations (the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation and the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation), include them in the agreement, and ensure they are enforced.

The NAFTA labor and environment side agreements were not designed to effectively raise standards for workers or to ensure clean air and water. Instead, they were hastily patched together to quiet NAFTA’s critics. These agreements should be scrapped and replaced with provisions that effectively and robustly protect international labor and environmental standards. Violators should be subject to trade sanctions when necessary—so that we stop the race to the bottom that has resulted from NAFTA. Without stronger provisions, environmental abuses and worker exploitation will continue unchecked.

3. Address currency manipulation by creating binding rules subject to enforcement and possible sanctions.

Within months after NAFTA’s approval by Congress, Mexico devalued the peso, wiping out overnight potential gains from NAFTA’s tariff reductions. This devaluation made imports from Mexico far cheaper than they otherwise would have been and priced many U.S. exports out of reach for average Mexican consumers. Countries should not use currency policies to gain trade advantages—something China, Japan and others have done for many years. All U.S. trade agreements, including NAFTA, should be upgraded to create binding rules, subject to trade sanctions, to prevent such game playing.

4. Upgrade NAFTA’s rules of origin, particularly on autos and auto parts, to reinforce auto sector jobs in North America.

NAFTA’s rules require that automobiles be 62.5% “made in North America” to qualify for duty-free treatment under NAFTA. Even though 62.5% seems high compared with the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s inadequate 45%, it still allows for nearly 40% of a car to be made in China, Thailand or elsewhere. The auto rule of origin should be upgraded to eliminate loopholes (through products “deemed originating” in North America) and to provide additional incentives to produce in North America. This, combined with improved labor standards, will contribute to a more robust labor market and help North American workers gain from trade.

5. Delete the procurement chapter that undermines “Buy American” laws (Chapter 10).

NAFTA contains provisions that require the U.S. government to treat Canadian and Mexican goods and services as “American” for many purchasing decisions, including purchases by the departments of Commerce, Defense, Education, Veterans Affairs and Transportation. This means that efforts to create jobs for America’s working families by investing in infrastructure or other projects, including after the financial crisis of 2008, could be ineffective. This entire chapter should be deleted.

6. Upgrade the trade enforcement chapter (Chapter 19).

NAFTA allows for a final review of a domestic anti-dumping or countervailing duty case by a binational panel instead of by a competent domestic court. This rule, omitted from subsequent trade deals, has hampered trade enforcement, hurting U.S. firms and their employees. It should be improved or omitted.

Reposted from the AFL-CIO News blog

Attacking Workers Not OK Mr. Trump

Donald Trump ran for president promising to respect the working people of America. Now, at his very first opportunity to show respect to America’s working families, the president-elect has failed the test.

Just last week, Trump was touting his effort to keep jobs at a Carrier plant in Indiana from moving overseas. Thanks to corporate tax breaks offered by Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Carrier is keeping hundreds of jobs in the state. These Carrier workers are no doubt relieved to be spending the holidays knowing their jobs are more secure, and we are grateful for it.

But Trump wasn’t honest with the workers at Carrier or the American people. And Chuck Jones—the president of United Steelworkers Local 1999 who represents the workers at that plant and has fought hard to bring the plight of his workers to the public’s attention—knew he had to hold Trump accountable. He explained Trump was taking credit for saving 350 jobs that were already slated to stay, but that 550 workers would still lose their jobs.

“Trump and Pence, they pulled a dog and pony show on the numbers,” he said.

And because Jones told the truth, Trump—the president-elect of the United States—responded by personally attacking Jones and our union sisters and brothers across this country.

Trump took to Twitter and said Jones “has done a terrible job representing workers” because Jones wouldn’t let Trump get away with lying. He suggested the steelworkers should be working harder. Continue reading

It’s Time to Start Over on Trade

In a challenge to President-elect Donald Trump, EPI Distinguished Fellow Jeff Faux writes in U.S. trade policy—time to start over that Washington’s fixation with trade agreements has diverted attention from the more important question of how to put American workers back on the historic track of rising wages and opportunities.

Faux warns that, having declared the multinational Trans-Pacific Partnership dead, Trump now says he intends to continue the pursuit of bilateral trade deals, on the grounds that he is a better negotiator. But even if he is, writes Faux, new deals will not solve the problems of off-shored jobs and depressed wages that Trump raised during the presidential campaigns. http://www.epi.org/publication/u-s-trade-policy-time-to-start-over/

Therefore, Faux calls on Trump to announce an indefinite freeze on any new trade negotiations, until his administration and the Congress commit to and implement a credible comprehensive agenda for making American workers competitive and balancing our trade with the rest of the world.

“For two decades Democratic and Republican leaders have had it backwards,” writes Faux. As the Economic Policy Institute has been reporting for decades, trade deals have systematically traded away the income and job security of American workers in exchange for promoting the interests of American international investors. The effect has been to “open up American workers and their communities to brutal global competition for which they have not been prepared. The result is that the costs to American workers of each cycle of expanded trade relentlessly exceed the benefits.” Continue reading

Trump and The Crisis of Labor

By Harold Meyerson

As Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin – states that once were the stronghold of the nation’s industrial union movement – dropped into Donald Trump’s column on election night, one longtime union staff member told me that Trump’s victory was “an extinction-level event for American labor.”

He may be right.

A half-century ago, more than a third of those Rust Belt workers were unionized, and their unions had the clout to win them a decent wage, benefits and pensions. Their unions also had the power to turn out the vote. They did — for Democrats. White workers who belonged to unions voted Democratic at a rate 20 percent higher than their non-union counterparts, and there were enough such workers to make a difference on Election Day.

That’s not the case today. Nationally, about 7 percent  of private-sector workers are union members, which gives unions a lot less bargaining power than they once had, and a lot fewer members to turn out to vote. The unions’ political operations certainly did what they could: An AFL-CIO-sponsored Election Day poll of union members showed 56 percent had voted for Hillary Clinton and 37 percent for Trump, while the TV networks’ exit poll showed that voters with a union member in their household went 51 percent to 43 percent for Clinton, as well. In states where unions have more racially diverse memberships, Clinton’s union vote was higher (she won 66 percent of the union household vote in California). Continue reading