Category: Campaign Updates

Workers’ Rights Leaders Face Deportation

Following onto the intent of the POWER Act, a bill twice introduced by Senator Menendez, the POWER Campaign has been working to lift up workers in their struggle for increased protections from exploitation and retaliation.  This spring when 32 workers from the South banded together to form Stand Up 2012, the POWER Campaign rallied around to demand that current protections be applied to these workers and to expose where current policies have failed workers in their access to labor and civil rights.

On June 5th, six workers from Southern 32 made the trip from New Orleans to DC to tell decision makers how they ended up detained and in deportation proceedings for standing up for their labor and civil rights.  Sitting with Representative Gutierrez one of the workers, Melvin, told how he was hired to clean up after Hurricane Ike, but he and other workers were denied safety gear for working in toxic sludge – and then weren’t paid the wages they were owed. When Melvin helped organize a strike, his employer called the police. He was arrested and put in deportation proceedings – all for having the courage to speak out.

As is all too common, Melvin and the other Southern 32 workers were retaliated against for trying to organize themselves and for defending their rights.  Because these thirty-two were immigrant workers ICE was used to limit their access to justice and they are currently on the verge of deportation.

The problem of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in workplace retaliation and the chilling effect it has on the rights of all workers has been widely recognized, but current policies to protect against such abuses are not working.  The Southern 32 qualify for prosecutorial discretion under the civil rights provisions of the Morton Memo, but regional ICE officials have so far ignored the claims.

The POWER Campaign is working to demand prosecutorial discretion as an important protection for these workers, and to support them as they continue to tell their stories and expose where current policies are failing workers.

Help the Southern 32 access protection: http://bit.ly/KizGb8

To read more stories from the Southern 32: http://www.makejusticereal.org/

Sen. Menendez, Reps. Miller and Chu re-introduce POWER Act

Sen. Menendez, Reps. Miller and Chu launch POWER Act

Bill anchors campaign to defend workers’ right to organize

Washington, D.C., June 14, 2011—Today, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez re-introduced to the Senate the Protect Our Workers from Exploitation and Retaliation (POWER) Act, while a House version was introduced by Reps. George Miller and Judy Chu. The POWER Act is designed to protect the right of immigrant workers to expose labor abuses without fear of retaliation—which will secure job opportunities, wages, and working conditions for U.S.-born workers as well. (Read full text here.)

Too often, when immigrant workers attempt to organize to combat exploitation, employers use immigration enforcement as a weapon to quash organizing efforts and trump labor law. The POWER Act ensures that immigrant workers who try to exercise their basic civil and labor rights are protected from retaliation. Simultaneously, the bill ensures that American workers’ wages and conditions are not undermined by employers who pit them against a captive workforce of exploited immigrant workers.

The POWER Act’s key provisions include:

  • Measures to ensure that worker protection laws are equally enforced in all workplaces.
  • U visa eligibility for workers suffering serious labor violations.
  • Temporary legal status with work authorization for victims of crime and labor retaliation.
  • Measures to ensure that workers in labor disputes have the chance to provide information to federal authorities before deportation proceedings.
  • Measures to hold employers responsible for labor law violations.


“Across the country, employers are using immigration enforcement as a weapon to stop workers from organizing for dignity. The result is a race to the bottom that all workers lose,” said Saket Soni, executive director of the National Guestworker Alliance.

“The POWER Act will let thousands of workers organize, without fear, to end the severe labor exploitation that marks our era,” said Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs with Justice.

For more information, go to http://www.thepoweract.com.

Jacob Horwitz, Lead Organizer
National Guestworker Alliance
jacob@guestworkeralliance.org, (504) 452-9159

Sen. Menendez announces POWER Act – 4/14/10


POWER Act would raise standards for all workers by protecting those at the bottom of the ladder

April 14, 2010

WASHINGTON – Today at a Capitol Hill news conference, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) was joined by Rev. Jesse Jackson and other major labor and civil rights leaders to introduce the Protect Our Workers from Exploitation and Retaliation (POWER) Act, which aims to improve workers’ rights across the board by protecting those at the bottom of the ladder. Specifically, the legislation, cosponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), would offer protections for whistleblower workers who expose workplace abuses by their employers. Also joining the announcement today were Daniel Castellanos, of the Alliance of Guestworkers for Dignity; Arturo Rodriguez, president, United Farm Workers of America; and Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.

Senator Menendez said: “When it comes to making sure people who work for a living are treated fairly by their employers, we are reminded of what John F. Kennedy meant when he said ‘A rising tide lifts all boats’. When the most vulnerable workers are able to freely report employer abuses, all workers are given more rights. This is an especially powerful message in these tough times, when folks in our country are working harder then ever to provide for their families, even though their wages remain flat.”

Castellanos said: “The POWER Act will allow millions of immigrant workers to organize, to hold bad employers accountable, and to lift the standards in the worst workplaces in the country.  When workers in the worst circumstances are given the protection to transform their workplaces, the standards rise for all workers.”

Hincapié said: “For far too long, exploitative employers have abused the immigration system to circumvent their obligations under labor and employment law by retaliating against courageous workers who have stood up for their rights. The POWER Act will provide workers with an important tool to finally be able to fully exercise their labor rights without fear of retaliation thereby improving the working conditions for all workers.”

Background on legislation:

Unscrupulous employers have the power and ability to threaten workers for exercising their labor rights and are infrequently held liable for labor law violations. For example, if workers do file a labor complaint or join with their fellow workers to form a union, employers can either threaten workers with violence or deportation. These actions have resulted in the depression of wages and working conditions of all workers. Immigrant workers who are under the constant threat of deportation are forced to accept diminished working conditions. This, in turn, undermines the broader labor market. When some workers are easy to exploit, the conditions of all workers suffer because employers “race to the bottom” and because opportunities for collective action by workers are undermined. This bill would raise the bar for treatment of all workers.

As such, the bill would:

•    Provide temporary protection for immigrant victims of crime and labor retaliation so that employers who are guilty of labor violations may be held accountable. It would allow federal, state or local law enforcement officials and federal labor officials to permit a worker to stay in the country temporarily if the person has filed a workplace claim or is a material witness in any pending or anticipated workplace claim. A worker who has been the victim of a labor violation and who is working with law enforcement may receive a stay of removal.

•    Provide U-Visas for victims of labor retaliation who cooperate with law enforcement.  It would expand the “U” visa that is available under current law to include civil labor violations when: 1) workers are threatened with retaliation or abuse for exercising their labor rights or actually experience retaliation; 2) the worker is cooperating with law enforcement and 3) the worker suffered severe abuse or would suffer harm if deported.

•    Preserve labor law enforcement opportunities.  When an agency conducts a worksite enforcement action and 1) there is a labor dispute in progress or 2) the agency received information as a means to retaliate against workers for enforcing their labor rights, DHS must ensure that workers arrested or detained aren’t deported before the appropriate labor agency is notified and has a chance to interview the workers.



Workers on the Front Lines

josueAfter Hurricanes Gustav and Ike forced people living on the Gulf Coast to evacuate, I was recruited to work along with 11 other workers from a day-laborer corner in New Orleans. The employer promised us good work, fair wages, safe conditions and housing in Texas. We believed him. When we arrived in Beaumont, we were horrified...
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