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Mon Oct 8, 2012, 12:16 AM


It is a lie to say that immigrants only work in agriculture and don't work in factory jobs.

It is also a half-truth to say that Americans won't work in agriculture.

The reality is that
1) Immigrants work in factory jobs; and
2) immigrant labor is brought in to push American citizens OUT of vulnerable industries and
3) immigrant labor is brought in to lower wages and reduce an employer's burden to maintain a safe work environment.

A few examples.

The class-action lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Boston on behalf of 500 workers, follows a raid by federal immigration agents on March 6 that drew criticism of the Bush administration's immigration policy and brought national attention to the perils facing undocumented workers.

Dozens of children were stranded when 361 workers at Michael Bianco Inc., which makes equipment and apparel for the U.S. military, were arrested by federal agents in New Bedford, a port city about 55 miles south of Boston.

Many of the immigrants were initially held at a decommissioned Army base in Massachusetts before being flown to Texas.

The case, separate to a lawsuit filed in March by the arrested immigrants against the U.S. government, accuses Michael Bianco Inc. of setting up a fictional company, Front Line Defense, to pay employees who had worked overtime.

In the 1930s, unionization swept through the meatpacking industry, and for decades meat jobs were well paid, came with health insurance and led to stable communities. But that has all changed, according to Eric Schlosser, author of "Fast Food Nation," published by Houghton Mifflin.

The industry has consolidated and moved its factories from the city to the U.S. High Plains. In the late 1970s, the top four beef companies controlled about 20 percent of the market; now they control more than 80 percent, Schlosser said. A return to poor working conditions in this period is not only bad for laborers but ultimately dangerous to consumers, he added.

In 1995, Schlosser, an Atlantic Monthly correspondent, wrote a story about Latin American migrant strawberry laborers in California. Rolling Stone magazine editors read it and asked him to write about fast food in the United States, leading to his new book, which spent six week under review in Houghton Mifflin's legal department before publication.

On arriving in meatpacking towns, Schlosser would meet with migrant workers from Mexico and Guatemala. Many of them were illiterate in English or Spanish, which made it hard for them to work together or organize to make conditions better, he said.

Labor trafficking in manufacturing has been known to occur in the garment industry and in food processing plants in the United States. Victims, both men and women, have been forced to work 10-12 hour days, 6-7 days per week with little or no break time. People may be trafficked into garment industry jobs such as sewing, assembling, pressing, or packing apparel. Others may be forced to work in food processing operations that include slaughtering, preserving, canning and packing goods for distribution. Immigrant workers, both documented and undocumented, are often recruited into these industries. Some documented immigrants include H-2B visa holders who arrive in the U.S. to perform non-agricultural labor or temporary services.

Several workers paid large fees to labor recruiters who brought them to the U.S. with falsified documents. When the workers arrived in the U.S., they learned that their debts had increased and that they had to work at a canning plant in a small, rural town in Kansas to pay the debt. The recruiters required that the workers live in overcrowded conditions in housing that they provided. Because of its isolated location the workers had to rely on the recruiters for food and basic supplies. The recruiters took the majority of the workers’ paychecks, claiming that the money went to their debt, housing and food.


Immigration Status – Traffickers often use threats of deportation and document confiscation to maintain control over foreign national workers in the production industry. H-2B workers, (temporary immigrant workers) are particularly vulnerable because their legal status in the United States is tied to their employment, and because they often have extended families in their home countries who depend on their wages. Traffickers impose hefty debts to immigrant workers for job recruitment fees, transportation costs and visa processing. Additionally, traffickers prey on immigrant workers’ unfamiliarity with the language, laws and customs of the U.S. to further manipulate or exploit them.

Like many places across the United States, this factory town in eastern Tennessee has been transformed in the last decade by the arrival of Hispanic immigrants, many of whom are in this country illegally. Thousands of workers like Mr. López settled in Morristown, taking the lowest-paying elbow-grease jobs, some hazardous, in chicken plants and furniture factories.

Today, the overwhelming majority of garment workers in the U.S. are immigrant women. They typically toil 60 - 80 hours a week in front of their machines, often without minimum wage or overtime pay. In fact, the Department of Labor estimates that more than half of the country's 22,000 sewing shops violate minimum wage and overtime laws. Many of these workers labor in dangerous conditions including blocked fire exits, unsanitary bathrooms, and poor ventilation. Government surveys reveal that 75% of U.S. garment shops violate safety and health laws. In addition, workers commonly face verbal and physical abuse and are intimidated from speaking out, fearing job loss or deportation.

The pattern of importing immigrant labor leading to lower wages and unsafe workplaces is unmistakeable.

What is the solution? Get rid of immigration? No, I have an even more effective idea: the solution is to UNIONIZE immigrant workers. It is plainly obvious that farmers and factory workers and other employers are dependent upon cheap labor. They do not have a God-given right to treat their workers like crap, put their lives needlessly in danger, and pay them crap wages. Workers have a right to fight back and ask for help from the Government, and we should be clamoring to give them that.

The solution is to renegotiate abominations like NAFTA to include a guarantee that all participant nations institute a livable wage for its workers, and to ensure that they obey strict pollution controls and enforce effective workplace safety laws. If we're going to have trade agreements of any sort, then use them to improve conditions for workers in all participating nations.

If you really think you need immigrant labor, then you need to treat them as humanely and pay them as well as you'd pay Americans. Period. That's not how immigrant labor is being treated right now.

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