Category: News Coverage

Sen. Menendez on POWER Act – Talk News Radio – 4/14/10

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) says Wednesday that the POWER Act, a bill he is co-sponsoring, can better protect immigrant workers from being intimidated by their employers. (0:54)

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) recounts the struggle of an immigrant laborer who lost his job once her tried to exercise his rights’ as a worker. (0:45)

On Wednesday, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduces the “Protect Our Workers from Exploitation and Retaliation” (POWER) Act. (0:35)


NJ Senator Menendez Making Pro-Migrant Moves – Vivir Latino – 4/19/10

In the absence of any Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill, seems that some Senators are making moves which take piecemeal approaches to protecting immigrant workers. Last week,New Jersey Democrat Senator Robert Menendez introduced the Protect Our Workers from Exploitation and Retailation (POWER) Actwhich seeks to protect immigrant whistleblowers who report workplace violations and abuses of being threatened with deportation.

Sen. Menendez said that the bill is likely to get the 60 votes in November 2010 which is better than the expectations for CIR.

“It may very well be in November the lame duck session, when members, who have retired or not going to run again, whose heart and mind says this is the right thing but maybe whose politics says to them no, would be willing to vote,”

According to El Diario/la Prensa, the POWER Act has several key provisions—among them, allowing law enforcement officials and labor officials to permit a worker to stay in the country temporarily if the person has filed a workplace claim or is a witness in a pending workplace claim.

Senator Menendez is a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act. Is this introduction and support of smaller pieces of legislation a sign that Senators are getting tired of waiting for do-nothing Schumer and want to show constituents that they are serious about protecting immigrants?


How Empowering Immigrant Workers Benefits Us All – Huffington Post – 4/23/10

By Afton Branche, Immigration Researcher, Drum Major Institute for Public Policy

Last week, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and three co-sponsors introduced the Protect Our Workers from Exploitation and Retaliation Act (POWER Act), a small piece of legislation with the potential to bolster the enforcement of our labor standards in a big way.

First, the bill expands the U-visa–originally created for immigrants who are victims of criminal activities–to protect workers making workplace claims from violent and abusive employer retaliation tactics. This measure would better enable workers to speak out against exploitative employers who break the rules. Second, the legislation provides work authorization and temporary visas for detained workers who have been retaliated against by their employer for asserting their labor rights and they agree to cooperate in investigations against employers.

Without the full participation of immigrant workers, labor agencies and law enforcement agencies won’t have the proper tools to uphold our labor standards–this harms all workers, regardless of citizenship status.

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If You Were a Guestworker, What Would You Do? – New York Times – 4/22/10


Many American workers know how a bad economy can chain them to a bad job or a bad boss. But what if you’re an immigrant guest worker and that boss holds your visa and can get rid of you with one phone call to the feds? What if he just threatened to call? Which would you choose – to be exploited or deported? To suffer silently here or in destitution back home?

There are laws to prevent such exploitation, but they often fail in the real world, which is rife with examples of abuses, and not just among the undocumented.

Hundreds of Indian shipyard workers brought legally to Mississippi under the H-2B guest-worker program organized hunger strikes and recently filed lawsuits protesting deplorable working conditions in what they called a system of human trafficking and involuntary servitude. The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security have been investigating. Farm workers and domestic workers regularly rally and plead for legislative help to escape abusive conditions.

A new bill from Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat of New Jersey, and co-sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat of New York, seeks to give these workers a chance to speak out. It offers temporary protection against deportation and retaliation for noncitizen workers – both visa holders and the undocumented – who file civil-rights or labor-rights complaints or are witnesses in lawsuits or criminal investigations against employers.

This gives time for labor agencies and law enforcement to investigate claims of workplace violations, investigations that now are often short-circuited after complainants disappear or are deported. It also expands a visa program for immigrants who are crime victims.

For too long the deck has been stacked against noncitizen workers. While the country has drastically ramped up the arrest, prosecution and deportation of tens of thousands of undocumented workers, it has done little to deal with unscrupulous employers who like their work force cheap, easily intimidated and disposable.

When one group of workers is powerless, all workers suffer. Mr. Menendez’s bill is essential civil-rights legislation that is long overdue and just in time.


Standing Up for Workers’ Rights – Huffington Post – 5/25/10

By Marielena Hincapie, Executive Director, National Immigration Law Center

“Exploitation anywhere is a threat to organized labor everywhere.” Those were the words of Rev. Jesse Jackson at the introduction of the Protect Our Workers from Exploitation and Retaliation (POWER) Act. The POWER Act, introduced by Senator Menendez (D-NJ), and co-sponsored by Sens. Gillibrand (D-NY), and Murray (D-WA) on April 14, 2010, provides courageous workers with the tools to exercise their labor rights without fear of retaliation by abusive employers who use immigration agents to do their dirty work.

You may be asking yourself, “isn’t retaliation already illegal?” It is. But shrewd employers have learned to game the system: they recruit, hire, and exploit immigrant workers only to turn around and call on immigration agents to deport workers once they begin organizing or otherwise exercising their labor rights. The cooperative relationship between unscrupulous employers and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has a devastating impact on the immigrant workers who are detained – sometimes simply for claiming their unpaid wages, complaining about sexual harassment, or raising their voices about dangerous working conditions – and deported. Their collaboration interferes with the civil and labor rights of immigrant workers. It undercuts honest employers who suffer an unfair economic disadvantage at the hands of unscrupulous employers and undermines the broader labor movement’s efforts to improve conditions for all workers.

Take Josue’s case: He was only a 17-year-old construction worker when he landed in jail for standing up to his employer’s exploitation. Josue and other immigrant workers were picked up in New Orleans by contractors and transported to Beaumont, Texas to clean up the region after Hurricanes Ike and Gustav hit in September 2008. Josue gutted houses and removed toxins without the health and safety equipment mandated by law. Josue suffered racial harassment, was denied breaks, and was required to work excessive hours. When Josue and his co-workers exercised their labor rights, the employer fired them, evicted them from the labor camps, and called the police and ICE. Josue spent more than two months in jail and now faces deportation simply for standing up for his basic rights. The employer apparently continues to do business as usual with the blessing of ICE.

Today, Josue is a member of the Congress of Day Laborers in New Orleans and continues to speak out against these injustices. Josue’s case is not an isolated one; there are countless workers who tell similar horror stories. Daniel, a founding member of the Alliance for Guestworkers with Dignity who came on a guest worker visa, faced threats of deportation for not accepting unconscionable working conditions after Hurricane Katrina. Silvia, a bilingual secretary in Oakland, CA, was detained by immigration and jailed for filing a claim against her former employer for unpaid wages. Macan was detained by immigration just one day after signing a settlement agreement with his employer for unpaid wages and put in jail for more than three months. The employer never countersigned the agreement. Aby is one of several hundred Indian workers brought on guest worker visas by Signal International who have been subjected to ICE interference and cooperation with the company.

I have the honor of knowing each of these workers, several of whom are former clients of mine in lawsuits brought against their employers. Were it not for their tenacity and perseverance, their stories would likely have ended in deportation, like those of so many others.

The seeds of the POWER Act were first sown by valiant workers like Josue, Daniel, Silvia, Macan, and Aby, who asserted their rights despite the risks. The bill provides protections to immigrant workers who suffer labor violations and gives all workers the opportunity to report violations of civil and labor law to the government without fear of having immigration authorities knock on their doors. As a result, native born workers and immigrant workers alike will finally be able to effectively exercise their labor and civil rights.

Other Congressional members should follow the leadership of Sen. Menendez to protect all workers. In the interim, the Obama administration can take steps to ensure that ICE is in the business of protecting workers, not helping employers exploit them.


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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