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.

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Fight for $15 Protests Launched

by Paul Garver

central-square-protest

Massachusetts State Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) was among three dozen demonstrators arrested on Tuesday in Cambridge, participants in one of three planned minimum wage protests in Massachusetts as part of a national “Fight for $15 Day of Action.”

In a statement, Eldridge wrote that he was arrested for civil disobedience while participating in the protest.

“I was arrested this morning in Cambridge for civil disobedience when I took to the streets alongside fast food and airport workers who are asking for a $15 minimum wage,” wrote Eldridge on his blog.”I’m very proud of the brave workers for having the courage to stand up to billionaire corporations and to fight for what they deserve.”

The protesters blocked traffic on Mass. Ave. in Central Square Cambridge early A.M. as part of the early wave of national actions on 29th November.supporting a $15 minimum wage.

[Ed. note: I am proud that Jamie Eldridge is the State Senator from my town. He is a leader of Progressive Democrats, a Sanders delegate and active in organizing to found an Our Revolution organization in Massachusetts.]

Sanders delegates and supporters meet in Boston to make plans for Democratic convention and beyond

by Rand Wilson

Rand and zakiyyah

Sanders delegates from MA CD 7 Zakiyyah Sutton and Rand Wilson
photo by Sandy Eaton

Over 100 Bernie Sanders’ supporters attended a meeting on June 28 at the Ironworkers Local 7 union hall in South Boston to make plans for activities at the national Democratic convention and begin a discussion about continuing the political revolution in Massachusetts.  A few photos from the meeting are posted here and many others are on Facebook.

The meeting was attended by 23 of the 45 Congressional District and At-Large delegates from Massachusetts who were elected this year to support Bernie Sanders at the 2016 National Democratic Convention in Philadelphia from July 25 to 28.  Nearly everyone in attendance had door knocked, phone banked and rallied for Bernie over the last year.

Jared Hicks, a delegate from Congressional District 7 who lives in Dorchester said that he hoped to win a Democratic platform that reflected Bernie’s values and change the party’s rules so that participation in the primaries is easier for voters.

“We need a progressive platform that includes Medicare for All, $15 minimum wage, expanded Social Security and a tax on Wall Street,” said Hicks. “And if Democrats want to defeat Trump, we must have strong language in opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.”

A number of participants expressed concern over the failure of the Sanders campaign to capture significant support in communities of color. They challenged the group to make overcoming racism a top priority if it seeks to build a broader movement.

Michael Gilbreath, a District 5 delegate from Wayland, highlighted some of the many activities that groups like Progressive Democrats of America, Democratic Socialists of America and many others were planning in support of the Sanders’ platform outside of the convention.

More than half of the meeting’s attendees indicated they planned to travel to Philadelphia during the convention to participate in activities there.

The most passionate part of the evening’s discussion regarded continuing the political revolution in Massachusetts and support for several down ballot “Bernie-crat” candidates.  Jed Hresko, who coordinated many successful volunteer phone banks for Bernie in Boston, suggested that similar efforts could be mobilized for local candidates.

With the strong possibility of a Clinton candidacy, some participants voiced support for the Green Party, while others cautioned that the priority should be on defeating the presumptive Republican nominee. There is clearly no consensus among Sanders’ supporters about whom to support for President!

All too often, incipient “political revolutions” fall prey to self-appointed leaders who lack either a following and/or the necessary skills to hold a group together.  Looking to the future, the diverse, statewide group of 45 elected representatives tested in the campaign and committed to the Sanders’ platform could provide a powerful foundation dedicated to continuing our revolution in Massachusetts.

Rand Wilson is an elected Sanders delegate from the 7th Congressional District.  He works for SEIU Local 888 and has volunteered with the Labor for Bernie network.

Massachusetts Home Care Workers Win Battle for $15

Local 1199 SEIU Massachusetts

Mass Health aides victory

Tears of joy streaked the faces of cheering home care workers assembled in their Dorchester union hall on Thursday afternoon as a decades-long struggle for recognition and a living wage culminated in a historic moment of celebration.

According to an agreement reached in contract negotiations between the 35,000 home care workers of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and the administration of recently elected Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (R), Massachusetts Personal Care Attendants (PCAs) are poised to become the first in the nation to achieve a statewide $15 per hour starting wage.

Upon reaching the agreement, workers called off the fifteen-hour picket they had planned to begin at the Massachusetts State House on the morning of Tuesday, June 30th. Instead, caregivers are planning a celebration of this milestone and nation-leading achievement of a $15 standard at 4:00 p.m. on the State House steps the afternoon of June 30th.

“This victory, winning $15 per hour, it means we are no longer invisible,” said Kindalay Cummings-Akers, a PCA from Springfield, MA. Cummings-Akers cares for a local senior and became a union activist at the onset of the campaign. She was also a member of the statewide PCA negotiating team that reached the agreement with the Baker administration. “This is a huge step forward not just for home care workers, but also toward ensuring the safety, dignity, and independence of seniors and people with disabilities,” she added. “We are a movement of home care workers united by the idea that dignity for caregivers and the people in our care is possible. Today, we showed the world that it is possible.”

“Massachusetts home care workers are helping to lead the Fight for $15 – and winning,” said 1199SEIU Executive Vice President Veronica Turner. “We applaud Governor Baker for helping to forge this pathway to dignity for PCAs and the tens of thousands of Massachusetts seniors and people with disabilities who rely on quality home care services to remain in the community or in the workforce. As the senior population grows, the demand for home care services is increasing. By helping to ensure a living wage for these vital caregivers, Governor Baker is taking a critical step with us toward reducing workforce turnover and ensuring that Massachusetts families can access the quality home care they need for their loved ones.”

“It is a moral imperative that all homecare and healthcare workers receive $15 per hour, and Massachusetts is now a leader in this effort,” said 1199SEIU President George Gresham. “Extreme income inequality is a threat to our economy, our bedrock American values and our very democracy. With a living wage, we can ensure more compassionate care for homecare clients, and better lives for homecare workers and their families. We applaud this bold step by Governor Baker towards a better future for our communities in Massachusetts and our country overall.”
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Join Labor Campaign for Bernie 2016

by Rand Wilson

Since Bernie Sanders officially launched his presidential campaign, over 200 union members have already signed the Labor for Bernie 2016 letter on line, including more than 30 trade unionists from Massachusetts.

We need 1,000 signatures to make this labor letter credible. Please consider signing on to the letter and helping to recruit more members to the Labor for Bernie 2016 campaign by sharing this link.  Do it now! 

As we build the list of labor supporters for Bernie, we can share it by union and plan activities in Massachusetts [and other states] so folks can organize within their union and their community.

Some good news: the Vermont State Labor Council, AFL-CIO and the Green Mountain Labor Council, AFL-CIO both adopted our State Fed/CLC/union “Resolution Urging Support for Bernie 2016

These resolutions make a good template for what we hope many other labor organizations in Massachusetts will do. The sample CLC resolution is online here and a sample union resolution is online here.

The Labor for Bernie 2016 sign on letter is online here.

Use this link to visit our new Labor Campaign for Bernie Sanders Facebook page.  Please “like” the page.

Another Labor for Bernie page is here.

The campaign gmail account is: LaborforBernie2016@gmail.com

Rand Wilson is a long-term organizer living in Somerville, MA. He currently works for SEIU Local 888 based in Charlestown, MA. He has been executive director of Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, and frequently contributes to various labor publications, including Talking Union.

Massachusetts Teachers Association Has a New Reforming President!

Ed. note:     The election of Barbara Madeloni  as President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA demonstrates the commitment of the MTA to quality public education at all levels.  This excerpt from her first editorial statement speaks eloquently for itself.

Fighting for our vision of public education

Barbara MadeloniBarbara Madeloni
MTA President

This is my first MTA Today editorial, and I am writing it at a moment that is filled with promise and possibilities. I want to begin our conversation in these pages by saying what a great honor it is to be given your trust and the privilege of representing you as your president. I know that our new vice president, Janet Anderson, shares my excitement. Working with all of you, our members, we now have an incredible opportunity to build the MTA’s strength as an activist union so that we can reclaim our voices, our power in solidarity, and the hope of public education.

We come into office during tumultuous times — indeed, dangerous times. Corporate players, looking to privatize public education, profit from the public dollar and bust our unions, have imposed business ideology on public schools through high-stakes testing, charter schools and technocratic accountability systems. Their narrative of failing public schools and bad public school educators — along with lazy public-sector workers — has been accepted by a bipartisan legion of legislators and policymakers. Our great institutions of public higher education are subject to similar attacks and story lines.

This narrative denies the devastating impact of economic and racial injustice and shows disdain for the enormous achievements of our members. As a result, too many of our students remain in poverty, public-sector unions are threatened, and public education — the cornerstone of our hope for democracy — is endangered.

MTA members recognize that this is a critical period in our history. With the election of new leadership, members announced that we are ready to fight for public education, for our union, and for our communities.

More than 500 first-time delegates attended the Annual Meeting, buoyed by an understanding that the struggle we are engaged in needs activists, organizers and a commitment to win. Our members came to the Annual Meeting because they recognized that the MTA is each one of us, talking to each other and working together to create strategies that protect collective bargaining and due process, strengthen our union, and support the best education possible for every student in Massachusetts.

Ours is not simply a fight against corporate “reforms,” as some would frame it. Ours is a struggle for a vision of public education as a place for joy, creativity, imagination, empathy and critical questioning so that students enter the world ready to participate in democratic communities.

MTA members recognize that this is a critical period in our history. With the election of new leadership, members announced that we are ready to fight for public education, for our union, and for our communities.

In this vision, every child is exposed to a rich curriculum; every school is well-funded; all educators are given respect, autonomy and time to do our work; and parents, students and educators work together to assess and reassess our efforts. This vision must replace the dehumanizing data-driven madness that is choking the life from our schools.

Ours is a vision for economic and racial justice, a society in which every child enters the classroom from a place of material security and with the consciousness of being a valued member of our community with the same opportunities as any other child.

Ours is a vision in which higher education — public higher education — is accessible to all families and affordable to every student. Our colleges and universities are places of free inquiry and intellectual exploration of the highest order, as well as institutions that offer preparation for economic security and successful professional lives. Along with our schools, they help provide the threads that bind us together as a healthy and just society.

This fall and into the years ahead, MTA members will engage in a movement to create a more activist union and reclaim public education. The more members engage, the stronger our movement will be and the more we can do.This is a terribly important time for public education and union democracy. It is a time for struggle, but a time, as well, for the joy of solidarity and of being able to say, when asked, that we stood together for students, public education and democracy.

In solidarity, and in anticipation of many great things ahead,

Barbara

Massachusetts Legislature Passes Bill to Halt Temp Worker Exploitation

Temporary Workers Celebrate Signing of Bill

by Paul Drake
Massachusetts Interfaith Worker Justice

On the evening of July 30th, thanks in part to the support of people of faith throughout the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts legislature passed a bill that would prevent unethical temporary employment agencies from exploiting temporary workers and undermining law-abiding businesses.

The Temporary Worker’s Right to Know Act requires temp agencies to provide written notice of key details of job assignments, disclosure to workers of how  to reach the Department of Labor Standards, and the name of the workers’ compensation provider, among other protections. The bill, which benefited from the strong support of House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray, will now go to Governor Deval Patrick for his signature.

Our faith traditions call for justice for all, not just the fortunate and the strong. So it has been exciting to see members of Massachusetts’ faith communities speak up and declare that the transience of temp workers’ employment does not make them disposable as persons. We are grateful today to see basics like honesty, safety, and fair pay being restored to the margins of our economy.
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