A recent New York TIMES editorial (February 23, 2013), says that “any worthwhile overhaul has to attack systemic abuses of immigrant labor.”
We are delighted to see prominent coverage of this important issue that our friends live with every day. The editorial points out that the need for protection against wage theft has received only passing mention. “Such protections, essential to any reform plan, would help rid the system of bottom-feeding employers who hire and underpay and otherwise exploit cheap immigrant labor, dragging down wages and workplace standards for everyone.”
The CoFiA Wage Theft Committee hears about these bottom-feeding employers all the time. They are not strangers. They live and work among us. These bottom-feeders we have dealt with include not just construction contractors and landscapers, but Realtors, doctors, restaurateurs, and others. As the editorial states, the abuses begin overseas, where workers pay steep fees to ‘coyotes’ and begin their lives here in deep debt. Thus they take almost any work offered, and suffer in silence when they are exploited. Most of the people who come to us have stories of threats of deportation if they venture to complain. The article is right when it says, “They have little opportunity to complain about unsafe working conditions, to sue for stolen wages or to assert their rights to overtime and time off.”
Changing these patterns must be part of the immigration discussion. The editorial tells us that the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and Service Employees International Union have joined forces with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the push for reform. This is encouraging news for us all.