Philadelphia Unions Stand Up for Justice for Immigrant Workers

by Paul Garver

phil immig union march

Union workers marched Wednesday in protest of Trump’s immigration policies. / Via 6ABC

Around 2,000 Philadelphia union workers gathered on Penn’s Landing on Wednesday 15th August to protest President Trump’s immigration policies, including the separation of asylum-seeking families and the denial of parole applications by immigrants awaiting case resolution.

Leaders and rank-and-file of both traditionally progressive unions and several building trades were present

Members of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers took part alongside union workers from the Philly chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees  and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.  According to IBEW spokesperson Frank Keel.  “There are probably a lot of our members who voted for Pres. Trump,” Keel said, “but we got a lot of buy-in here, and we are proud of our involvement.”

ICE officers in the Philadelphia branch arrest more undocumented non-criminal immigrants than in any other city.  Union protesters chose the city because the ICE office here has denied all parole applications from asylum seekers awaiting their case’s resolution.

Mayor Jim Kenney, who in late July announced the city would not renew its criminal records sharing agreement[2] with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, took the stage in support.

National leaders from UNITE HERE, which primarily represents hospitality workers, and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, led the rally.  IUPAT General President Ken Rigmaiden, said from the podium:

“We’re united,” President Rigmaiden said. “We will not let any child be terrorized — not by a bad contractor, not by an unethical company, and not by an administration that turns its back on what the Liberty Bell stands for!”

Rigmaiden also wrote an op-ed for the Phila. Inquirer, excerpted below;

Donald Trump claimed during his presidential campaign that reducing the number of immigrants would result in higher wages and greater opportunities for the rest of us Nothing can be farther from the truth.

However the facts haven’t stopped this administration from attacking immigrant workers and their families.  Immigration raids have increased by 42% since Trump took office – targeting immigrant workers regardless of whether they committed a crime.

If you’re an immigrant, you can be jailed just for showing up to work.  In workplaces across the country, corrupt employers are capitalizing on this fear, which drives down standards for everyone.  Fear mongering aimed at bullying workers has a chilling effect on all workers in the building trades, not just recent immigrants.

Now more than ever we need strong unions to fight back against the inhumane and ineffective immigration policies that create a climate of terror at the workplace, criminalize workers and endanger our future.

Pittsburgh Workers Oppose Theft of Wages from Immigrant Roofers

 

by Mike Elk

pgh wage theft
O’HARA, PENNSYLVANIA  – Popping out of the luscious greenery along the banks of the Allegheny River emerges the head of a giant 15-foot tall brown rat in a red tank sitting on top of a 4-foot high chunk of cheese.

“For us, the rat represents Stapleton Homes,” says Guillermo Perez, president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA). “The rat represents a business model that exploits workers.”
The workers here have gathered to protest Stapleton Homes, owners of the Chapel Harbor luxury condos on the banks of the Allegheny, only 15 minutes from the heart of booming Downtown Pittsburgh.

Last summer, a family team of five roofers from Guatemala spent ten days in 100-degree heat roofing the condos as they were preparing to go on the market. When the team completed the job, the immigrant workers building the project were never paid the $5,000 they were owed.

“It’s just wrong,” says 27-year-old Guatemalan immigrant “Gladys” as her young toddler runs around playing in the grass. “We have kids, I have family. I have more family in Guatemala…It’s not fair that we didn’t get paid.”

On Saturday, the Latino workers, members of organized labor and concerned community members gathered near the entrance of Chapel Harbor to protest what they see as wage theft.
“We love our community along the Allegheny, but the one thing we don’t love is taking from workers,” says Chapel Harbor homeowner Kevan Yenerall, whose wife is an immigrant from Thailand.
“[The workers] need to know that the people who live in Chapel Harbor are wonderful people, they work in the neighborhood, they pay taxes in the neighborhood, they aren’t in favor of what’s happening here,” says Yarnell. “My neighbors are wonderful folks, we love our homes, but this is awful.”

Stapleton Homes did not return a request for comment about the incident.

The story of Gladys and her crew is one that’s becoming increasingly common as Latino immigrants show up to take advantage of the massive building boom set off by Pittsburgh’s tech and natural gas boom.

Building contractors and construction unions in the area are struggling to find new workers.  And contractors regularly approach Latino labor leaders, desperately seeking new workers to fill these jobs.

Many immigrants say they prefer construction work to other types of work available to them.

“I used to work in the restaurant industry, I didn’t like it, and so I decided to try this,” says Gladys. “There is more independence.”

However, Latino workers in Pittsburgh often experience wage theft and are chronically underpaid compared to their unionized counterparts. Gladys says members of her crew on average make only $800 a week while working 12-15 hour days often in the heat on top of roofs.

Now, the areas’ unions are trying hard to organize workers regardless of immigration status and documentation.

“If we don’t step up and keep the pressure on [these contractors], they are just going to keep doing it,” says Joseph Hughes, a union representative with Painters’ Union District Council 57.

“I see this every day, thousands of contractors around the state of Pennsylvania do this everyday. This isn’t an isolated problem” Hughes tells the crowd.
Among the crowd, that day on the side of the highway in O’Hara Township, Gladys and her crew of a half-dozen roofers were some of the few Latino faces in the crowd of 50.
As a result of the economic downturn in Pittsburgh in the 1980s and 90s, which saw half the population of Pittsburgh leave, there was never as large of an influx of Latinos as in other areas of the country. In Pittsburgh, Latinos make up only 1.7 percent, while 17.6 percent of the U.S. population is Latino.
The crowd of supporters at the protest was mainly white, but numerous speakers in the crowd said they feel a sense of solidarity as their parents and grandparents worked similar jobs when they came to Pittsburgh from Southern and Eastern Europe in the early 1920s.
“This is such an important issue because it hits home to me. Both of my parents were immigrants that came [from Italy] after World War Two and they meet learning English at Allderdice High School,” says Anita Prizio, a 54-year-old DSA member who was recently elected to County Council to represent the region around Chapel Harbor.”
“My parents built the house that I still live in and they also created a company [that I run], but the one thing they told me and I learned this is that to be a good business owner, you have to be an ethical business owner, you have to have integrity and you have to pay your workers,” says Prizio. “There were times that it was hard for my parents to make payroll, but the first thing they did was to pay the workers before they actually paid themselves.”

“I stand in solidarity with Gladys and her workers because it’s the right thing to do and business should do the right thing,” says Prizio.

The campaign marks the beginning of new efforts by the area’s construction unions and community groups to combat the growing trend of wage theft facing workers. Recently, the Painters Union even donated a new sign to Casa San Jose, a Latino Resource and Welcome Center founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph in the growing Latino community of Beechview.

Unlike other cities with large Latino populations, Pittsburgh currently doesn’t have a workers’ center for non-union workers, where low wage workers win claims against employers that fail to pay them on time.

While groups are pushing for the establishment of a worker center, the task has fallen to an ad hoc coalition of activists associated with the LCLAA, building trade unions, area labor lawyers and the Thomas Merton Center community group. Gladys says support from these groups has been uplifting as a new member of the Pittsburgh community.

“I feel very welcomed by the community,” says Gladys. “We appreciate the support.”

The embrace by organized labor is part of a larger shift occurring nationally as building trade unions begin to embrace immigrant labor as opposed to keeping them off out of workplaces.

While activists associated with the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement say they would like to see unions and other groups step up to fund a workers’ center, they say that the protests have been a learning experience for the Pittsburgh community.

As the protest ends, Perez takes the microphone and taught the yinzer crowd a few words of Spanish.

“El pueblo que lucha, triunfa.”

When we fight, we win.

Reposted from the Payday Report. 

Facing Deportation for Showing Up to Work

Jobs with Justice

FreeRodrigo_hugo

Instead of celebrating Father’s Day with their children and family, beloved fathers and longtime U.S. residents Hugo Mejia and Rodrigo Nunez spent the special day in a detention center near Oakland, California.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has held Hugo and Rodrigo in immigration custody since May 3. That morning, their employer sent them to work on a new construction project at a hospital on the Travis Air Force Base. At the base, a military official detained and reported them to immigration officers. Now they fear the worst: that the federal government will deport them at any point and tear them away from their families and communities.

The devoted family men call California home and have lived in the United States for more than 15 years. Hugo is a foreman at S&R Drywall and a member of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) and Rodrigo is a member of the Carpenter Union Local 713. The construction workers are local volunteers with deep community ties. Hugo lives in San Rafael with his wife, Yadira and his three young kids. His eldest children have been granted protection from deportation through DACA, and his youngest is a U.S. citizen.  He volunteers at his children’s school. Rodrigo lives in Hayward with his wife and his three young kids, all of whom are U.S. citizens. He is an assistant coach for his son Sebastian’s baseball team who also volunteers at his church.

Argued Hugo, “We don’t take anything from this country. On the contrary, we give to this country. It’s not fair to deport us.”

None of these facts have compelled the local ICE field office director to stop their expedited deportation cases or release Hugo and Rodrigo. ICE has full discretion to discharge them from custody so they can reunite with their families while reviewing their cases.

The Trump administration’s ramped up immigration policies could result in more of our friends and neighbors getting separated from their families as a result of reporting to work. Hugo and Rodrigo deserve to watch their children grow up and thrive.

If ICE deports Hugo and Rodrigo, everything that have worked to achieve to sustain their families could be taken away. And the loved ones they leave behind will experience an emotional and economic toll. The Urban Institute and Migration Policy Institute study found that a father’s deportation causes a family’s income to drop an average of 73 percent.

Hugo’s and Rodrigo’s detainment has caused a widespread outcry among labor, faith, and community groups, and elected officials. Jobs With Justice and our network of coalitions are supporting a #FreeHugo&Rodrigo week of action currently underway urging ICE to free both men and halt their deportations.

You can help keep up the pressure to reunite Hugo and Rodrigo with their families with two simple gestures:

1) Make a call to the San Francisco ICE field office to demand that Director David Jennings use his prosecutorial dissertation and release Hugo and Rodrigo now.

2) Encourage your friends and family to do the same.

Call ICE Director David Jennings at 415-844-5503