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.

Support Justice for Migrant Workers

by Paul Garver

Free Kike and Zilly

When a repressive government wants to stifle organizing of migrant workers, it first strikes at those key leaders that are most effective in defending their rights..   

Talking Union posts last year pointed out how the Chinese government was closing migrant workers centers and jailing their volunteers to stifle the wave of organizing among internal migrant workers in China.

Now it appears that migrant worker organizers in Vermont are being targeted by the new Trump administration policies through ICE.

Please respond as quickly as possible to this plea from Migrant Justice. To sign the petition to

Demand the release of detained human rights leaders Kike and Zully!

Go to Migrant Justice website at:  http://migrantjustice.net/free-enrique-and-zully

Enrique “Kike” Balcazar, is a seasoned human rights leader in Vermont. Kike has lived in the state since 2011, when he became one of the many migrant dairy workers who make Vermont’s iconic dairy industry possible. He joined Migrant Justice in 2012, and soon became a spokesperson for his community, helping to lead the successful campaign for driver’s licenses for all Vermont residents. Kike has represented migrant workers at numerous national gatherings and coalitions, including the national Food Chain Workers Alliance, the Northeast Organic Farming Association’s recent convention, and in the Cosecha National Assembly in Boston. He has received an invitation to speak at Harvard University on April 1st.  Kike leads the nationally-acclaimed Milk with Dignity campaign, and is part of the Vermont Attorney General’s task force on immigration. Kike’s infectious smile has cheered all of us who have had the fortune to interact with him.

Zully Palacios is an active member of Migrant Justice. Zully has participated in Migrant Justice Assemblies, learning about the reality that dairy farmworkers face in Vermont. She has been an active member since 2015, leading presentations, participating in activities of an immigrant women’s group, and designing know-your-rights information for the immigrant community. Zully participated in the campaign to secure a commitment from Ben & Jerry’s to join the Milk with Dignity Program. Her work for human rights includes joining meetings and trainings about the rights of workers and immigrants at the national level. In November, Zully went to New York for the Food Chain Workers Alliance’s Justice in the Food Chain Training, and in February, Zully participated in the Cosecha National Assembly in Boston.

On Friday, March 17, Enrique and Zully were leaving the Migrant Justice office in Burlington, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents targeted and arrested them. They are now in detention awaiting a court date. Neither has a criminal record. Their targeting appears to be political retaliation for their effective work in defending the human rights of workers and immigrants in this country.

Please sign to send the following letter to ICE Boston Field Office Director Todd Thurlow demanding the immediate release of Enrique and Zully, and calling for their deportation proceedings to be terminated!

Field Office Director Todd Thurlow

DHS/ICE/ERO

Boston Field Office

1000 District Ave

Burlington MA 01802

Director Thurlow:

I am writing to ask you to please grant Prosecutorial Discretion to Jose Enrique Balcazar Sanchez (birth date: 03/09/1993) and Zully Palacios (05/14/1993).

Mr. Balcazar is a seasoned community leader and spokesperson. He has lived in Vermont since 2011, where he is known for his advocacy to improve living and working conditions for all farm workers, particularly migrant workers. Enrique has lived in Vergennes, Burlington and South Burlington, where he has developed strong ties with his neighbors and peers. Mr. Balcazar has shown tremendous solidarity and integrity by traveling the state to listen to farmworkers’ problems, then sharing them with government and corporate leaders to develop solutions. He currently sits on the Vermont Attorney General’s task force on immigration, leads the Milk with Dignity campaign, and led Migrant Justice’s successful campaign to win access to driver’s licenses for all Vermonters.

Ms. Palacios is not a threat to the public or to her community. Rather, she is an outstanding community activist and human rights defender. ICE should not be spending resources keeping Ms. Palacios detained. She is an important figure in her community and her continued detention does harm not only to Ms. Palacios but to the farmworker movement for human rights of which she is a respected and beloved member.

I trust that this request will be promptly considered and that Mr. Balcazar and Ms. Palacios will soon be released.

 

“We, The Workers”: Documentary Shows Tide Turn Against Chinese Labor Activism

China Digital Times

The conviction last September of three prominent labor activists for “gathering crowds to disturb social order” may have marked the final end of an era of “pragmatic authoritarianism” toward labor organization. The shift towards a harder line was captured by director Wen Hai in his new documentary “We, The Workers,” which appeared earlier this month at the International Festival Rotterdam. James Griffiths highlighted the film at CNN last week:

While much has been written about and , Wen’s film offers rare insight into how such collective action is planned and organized, and how hard NGO employees try to stay within the moving goalposts of what activism is permissible in China.

[…] According to Manfred Elfstrom, an expert on China movements at Cornell University, for a long time such groups were tolerated by the government and even occasionally encouraged by local authorities. This all changed in 2015, he said, when “the crackdowns have gotten increasingly severe.”

The sudden shift in attitude caught even Wen off guard. “During the early process, I didn’t realize that it would be a danger and risk for me … to make such a film,” he said.

[… E]ven though the activists work within the law, they often aren’t protected by it. During filming, organizer Peng Jiayong was abducted and savagely beaten, ending up in hospital. Since 2015, dozens of other activists and lawyers have been detained, arrested and harassed.

[…] Wen is optimistic. “Even though now the situation and crackdown is very depressing, in the long term, ’ agency, their ability to defend their rights, and the awakening of their human consciousness is improving,” he said. [Source]

The activists imprisoned last September were accused, in a video shared on Sina Weibo by the Communist Youth League and Global Times, of cooperating with foreign plans to tip China into instability and revolution. In the CNN report, Wen offers a sharply different perspective based on his past work in the Middle East and North Africa, arguing that independent organizations and other civil society groups could offer a vital bulwark against chaos and catalyst for positive social change. “(Peng) Jiayong and the other NGO workers,” he says, “are a very constructive power in rebuilding our society.”

On Twitter, Griffiths described “We, The Workers” as “one of the most inspiring films I’ve seen in years, testament to [the] power of solidarity and resistance.” The trailer:

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/ndY1294mVDk?rel=0

South China Morning Post’s Clarence Tsui recently described Wen’s various brushes with the Chinese security apparatus, his eventual exile in Hong Kong, and his recent collaborations with activist and “We, The Workers” producer and with artist Ai Weiwei.

Continue reading

Millions in U.S. Climb Out of Poverty

by Patricia Cohn,
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The availability of full-time jobs at a livable wage may be essential to move out of poverty but is not necessarily enough. Many poor people, saddled with a deficient education, inadequate health care and few marketable skills, find small setbacks can quickly set off a downward spiral. The lack of resources can prevent them from even reaching the starting gate: no computer to search job sites, no way to compensate for the bad impression a missing tooth can leave.
Many of those who made it had outsize determination, but also benefited from a government or nonprofit program that provided training, financial counseling, job hunting skills, safe havens and other services.
Cheyvonné Grayson, 29, grew up in South-Central Los Angeles, where he, at the age of 14, saw a friend gunned down. Since graduating from high school, Mr. Grayson has worked mostly as a day laborer. In 2014, he was paying $300 a month to sleep on someone’s couch and showing up at 6 a.m., morning after morning, at nonunion construction sites in the hopes of getting work.
Often the supervisors and workers spoke only Spanish, and it was hard to understand the orders and measurements. He remembered one foreman looking him up and down, skeptical that he could do the job.

“I had to prove this man wrong,” Mr. Grayson said.
At every site, he said he tried to pick up skills, carefully observing other workers, asking questions and later reinforcing the lessons by watching YouTube videos. Even so, the work was inconsistent and paid poorly, he said.
What made the difference, he said, was getting into the carpenters’ union — a feat he could not have achieved without the help of the Los Angeles Black Worker Center. “That was the door opener,” Mr. Grayson said.

He had to borrow a few hundred dollars for fees and tools, but his first apprenticeship as a carpenter started at $16.16 an hour. He quickly moved up to $20.20 an hour and is paid for his further training. He is now hanging doors for new dormitories at the University of Southern California.
For the first time in his life, he opened a bank account.

As a carpenter he started at $16.16 an hour. He quickly moved up to $20.20 an hour and is paid for his further training. He is now hanging doors for new dormitories at the University of Southern California.
For the first time in his life, he opened a bank account.
Read the entire piece. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/26/business/economy/millions-in-us-climb-out-of-poverty-at-long-last.html?_r=0

Why Unions Embraced Immigrants – And Why It Matters for Donald Trump

David Iaconangelo
Christian Science Monitor

After seeming to debut a more forgiving stance on immigration last week, Donald Trump arrived in Phoenix on Wednesday brandishing a resolutely hardline plan, warning of an undocumented criminal menace and promising deportations on an unprecedented scale.

“We will begin moving them out Day One. As soon as I take office. Day One. In joint operation with local, state, and federal law enforcement,” he said, according to transcripts.

As he has in the past, Mr. Trump tied his promise to carry out deportations to anti-globalist economic ideas. But he also drew a direct line between the fortunes of the country’s native-born laborers and the presence of undocumented immigrants – a connection he has rarely made in his remarks on the topic.

“While there are many illegal immigrants in our country who are good people, many, many, this doesn’t change the fact that most illegal immigrants are lower skilled workers with less education, who compete directly against vulnerable American workers, and that these illegal workers draw much more out from the system than they can ever possibly pay back,” he said.

“We will reform legal immigration to serve the best interests of America and its workers, the forgotten people. Workers. We’re going to take care of our workers.”

But the globalization that Trump denounces has also contributed to a decades-long reshaping of unions – a traditional voice for workers, and often vocal opponents of globalization – toward greater inclusion of immigrants, even those without legal status. And the reasons behind organized labor’s shifting stance on immigrant workers, now decades in the making, may undercut Trump’s narrative of foreigners arriving to America to crowd out the native-born. Continue reading

U Mass Amherst Threatens to Close Labor Center

From Michael D. Yates:

UMass Labor Center

This letter is from Eve Weinbaum, Director of the Labor Center at UMass-Amherst. She writes about the abominable efforts of the university administration to get rid of the Labor Center and its despicable treatment of her. Eve is an outstanding champion of workers, at her own university and across the country. And the Labor Center is outstanding. Please consider writing to the persons she notes at the end of her letter, protesting what the university is doing. I taught in the Union Leadership and Administration Program part of the Center for many years.

Dear friends,
I hope you’re all well and enjoying the very end of summer. I wish I were writing with uplifting news about how well things are going at UMass Amherst, but unfortunately, as some of you have heard, the Labor Center has not had a good year.

As you probably know, the UMass Amherst administration has been cutting the Labor Center’s budget for many years, and on several occasions planned to eliminate the Labor Studies program. As Director, I have spent time building support among other UMass faculty, the labor movement, and legislators, to convince the administration of the importance of the Labor Center. We have had to fight for our survival many times over the past decade.

In July of 2015 I left for a sabbatical to do research in Medellin, Colombia. Immediately after my departure, the dean’s office and the chair of sociology informed my colleagues that they were cutting all funding for Labor Studies programs. They eliminated all funding for graduate students (including teaching and research assistantships) and all funding for part-time faculty who have taught the required curriculum for many years. They also cut the director position from a 12-month to a 9-month job, with a large cut in salary but no cut in responsibilities. They also reduced the course releases that have always been provided in exchange for the administrative work involved in running the Labor Center and its two graduate programs.

Administrators explained that they would only allow the Labor Studies Master’s degree program to continue to exist if it served as a “revenue generator” – to fund other parts of the University outside the Labor Center.

With these changes, the Labor Center can no longer welcome all students, labor leaders, and rank-and-file activists regardless of class, race, nationality, or ability to pay; and we cannot offer externships that provide valuable experience as well as tuition waivers. Instead, we have been told to recruit only students who can afford to pay full tuition, preferably out-of-state tuition, which is currently $31,733 each year for the full-time graduate program (not including room and board), or $63,466 for a two-year degree.
At the same time, we have been asked to shrink the curriculum, to cut electives and to eliminate some required courses — including Collective Bargaining and Contract Administration, Current Issues and Debates in Labor, and possibly Labor Law, among others — all in order to lay off faculty and cut costs.

For the time being, the ULA limited-residency program is safe because it is a net revenue-generator – it pays for itself through tuition and fees. But it is unclear how much longer it can survive without the dedicated staff and faculty support that ULA requires throughout the school year to recruit students and to keep the program running smoothly.

I have been a vocal opponent of the administration’s plans to demolish the Labor Center, and I am proud to have fought off many attacks over the past decade. This past spring, I filed grievances when two of the proposed cuts violated our faculty union contract. As we were discussing possible settlements with the provost’s office, however, I was told that the administration would only settle the grievances if I stepped down as Director immediately, so that they could appoint someone more open to “compromise” (in their words). Before I had time to formulate a response, the chair of the Sociology Department sent out an email to the entire faculty of Labor Studies and Sociology, falsely declaring that I had “resigned” as Director, and announcing that she was accepting nominations for a new Labor Center Director. As you may imagine, this came as a shock to myself and my colleagues. As things currently stand, I have been dismissed as Director as of September 1, and the status of the Labor Center is unclear; as of today we have no director but the Sociology Chair will be appointing one soon, with no input from Labor Studies. I am hoping to remain as director of the ULA program, but the administration has not been willing to make that commitment.

The UMass graduate program in Labor Studies is the premier graduate program in the country for union activists, leaders, staff, and those interested in potential careers in the labor movement to study the history, theory, legal framework and best practices in this field in an academically rigorous manner. Almost one thousand Labor Center alumni have gone on to serve as organizers, representatives, labor academics and educators, industrial relations experts, strategic researchers, arbitrators and elected leaders in universities, unions and community organizations throughout the country. Working with our students and alumni has been my greatest joy and a source of immense satisfaction as Labor Center Director.

I don’t know if it is possible to reverse the plans of UMass administrators, but I know we have to try. If you want to weigh in, please contact these administrators:

Sociology Department Chair Michelle Budig: budig@umass.edu
Dean John Hird: jhird@umass.edu
Provost Katherine Newman: ksnewman@umass.edu
And please send a copy to me: weinbaum@umass.edu

We are asking administrators to reverse the cuts to Labor Studies; to restore our graduate student funding and externships; to maintain our full curriculum; to honor the Labor Studies faculty’s autonomy to make programmatic decisions and to designate a Director; and to commit that the Labor Center is an integral part of the University’s educational mission, not just a profit center to subsidize other programs.

As always, we are so grateful for your support. We wouldn’t fight to continue doing this work if we didn’t know how valuable it has been to our students, our alumni, and our friends in the labor movement all around the world. Thank you for everything you do, and please stay in touch.

In gratitude and solidarity,
Eve

 

Nurse Union Activist Runs for Vermont House

by Paul Garver

Mari_on_Verizon_Picket_Line_2016-05-15_at_10.46.13_AM

Labor for Bernie activist and now legislative candidate Mari Cordes shown at right, with Senator David Zuckerman, Progressive candidate for VT Lt. Governor and Matt Dunne, Democratic candidate for Governor, at recent Verizon strike solidarity event in Burlington.

We received this letter from seven leading activists of Labor for Bernie with connections to Vermont:

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

We are writing on behalf of Mari Cordes, a working nurse in Burlington, Vermont and past president of the 2,000-member AFT-affiliated RN union at UVM Medical Center. Click here to learn more about her.

Mari was an early supporter of Labor for Bernie. She was instrumental in securing her state federation’s support for his campaign and joined other members in lobbying the American Federation of Teachers to back Bernie’s presidential bid.

Mari is now running for office herself, as part of the surge of interest in local progressive politics generated by Bernie’s national campaign. She is running for the Vermont State House of Representatives from the Addison-4 District (the towns of Lincoln, Starksboro, Monkton, and Bristol).

She is campaigning, in part, based on her past labor-related work as a statewide leader of the Vermont Progressive Party and board member of the Vermont Workers Center. She has been one of Vermont’s leading advocates for single-payer health care, workers’ rights, and other causes, including environmental protection. (She is treasurer of the 350.org Vermont board.)

Like Bernie, in his campaign for president, Mari is relying on small individual donations. You can donate by sending a check (made out to “Mari Cordes for Vermont House”) to Donna Bailey, Campaign Treasurer, 298 Biddle Rd., Lincoln VT. 05443

Or contribute on line, via ActBlue, at: https://secure.actblue.com/entity/fundraisers/43597

In our individual capacity as former or current labor organization representatives, we urge your strong support for Mari’s exciting campaign. With help from fellow Labor for Bernie activists, she can become part of the growing bloc of progressive state legislators in Vermont in January.

Mari is currently seeking organizational endorsements from some of our own unions in Vermont and others. If you can help her with this effort or assist her campaign in any other way, in addition to donating, please feel free to contact her at: in…@maricordes.org

Best wishes and thanks for your help!

Ellen David Friedman, former organizer, VT-NEA

Steve Early, former New England representative, Communications Worker of America

Don Trementozzi, president, CWA Local 1400

Traven Leyshon, president Green Mountain Central Labor Council (signing in a personal capacity)

Heather Riemer, AFT-Vermont organizer

Rand Wilson, former SEIU organizer in Vermont

Based on this endorsement from trusted colleagues in Labor for Bernie, I had already decided to contribute when I looked at Mari’s own description of her other activities while working as a skilled nurse in cardiology.  This made me even more happy to support her candidacy.  Mari is involved in

Buddhism

Music (making, and listening)

Outdoor Activities

Homesteading (gardening-food and medicinal crops, laying hens)

Travel – have traveled extensively in India, Africa and many other countries.  Worked for 2 months as an RN with the Vermont Global Village Project in a village in Ghana, West Africa.  Coordinated 2 Buddhist Pilgrimages in India for a Tibetan Buddhist Lama.

I live in the Green Mountains with my husband in a completely off-the-grid (solar, wind) home that we built together.

Vice President – Health Care, AFT-Vermont

One, two, many Mari Cordes!