A weblog about the business of immigrant work: employment, compensation, legal protections, education, mobility, and public policy.

June 26, 2014

Food manufacturing workers in NYC

Feeding New York” is a report issued on June 24 by Brandworkers, a membership organization of workers in the local food production industry in New York City. The report focuses on the New York City food manufacturing industry. Researchers surveyed and interviewed workers and drew upon other government survey data.

With some $5 billion in gross annual sales, New York City’s food manufacturing industry employs 14,000 workers. With 900 employers, the average workforce is 16. According to a 2007 study by the Fiscal Policy Institute, 70% of workers in the sector are immigrants, 72% are people of color, and 64% have less than a high school diploma.

Latinos make up 32%; Asians 20%, African Americans 17% and whites 27% of all food manufacturing workers.13 Among frontline workers, Latinos account for 53% of workers, Asians 16%, African Americans 16% and whites 12%.14 Women comprise 38% of the industry’s workers and are a growing segment of the industry.15 According to Census data, frontline workers make on average $12.06 per hour and work an average of 37.4 hours per week.

What the study’s survey found:

Work Safety lapses: 42% have suffered an injury at work. This includes: 15.1% have slipped/fallen; 14.2% have been cut; 11.3% have headaches; 10.4% have a back injury; 7.5% have been hit by equipment; 43.5% reported injury but did not get free
medical care from employer; 9.7% have come into contact with toxic chemicals; 4.9% aren’t sure; More than 1 in 10 report that their employer required them to do something that put their safety at risk

Little training: 44.1% did not receive any [job] training; 72.1% did not receive any training from employer; 56.7% never received training on workplace health and safety.

Limited health insurance: 52.9% don’t have health insurance; 4.7% get their health insurance through their employer; 54.9% have gone to work sick in the past year;
30.7% don’t get any paid sick days; 25.7% aren’t sure if they do or not.

Wages: Survey respondents on average earned $10.48 an hour. On average, undocumented workers made $2 less per hour than workers with legal status.

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June 21, 2014

Undocumented workers ensnared by workers comp

Law enforcement agencies are booby-trapping workers’ comp benefits for undocumented workers. Below is my column with reference to a news article. Both were published on June 16 by WorkCompCentral.

Ensnared by workers’ comp

We may look back to this time as a period when one out of every ten injured worker faced the risk of criminal prosecution and deportation for the act of submitting a legitimate workers’ compensation claim.

Michael Whiteley of WorkCompCentral [see at end for access] reports that law enforcement agencies in at least two states recently adopted strategies to arrest undocumented workers on the grounds that in using an invalid social security number in their claims submission they defrauded the insurer.

First report of injury forms include a field for a social security number. The number links the claimant to personnel and payroll data on the employer’s books. Normal payroll deductions are taken for the number to hold for future social security and Medicare benefits, to which the claimant may never be able to enjoy. By definition, the social security number on an undocumented worker’s claims record is invalid.

The eight million undocumented workers comprise about 6% of the total civilian workforce. By studying estimates of undocumented worker penetration by occupations ranked by injury risk, one can reasonably project that undocumented workers sustain one out of every ten work injuries. This high volume is invisible to almost everyone except for adjusters, case managers, lawyers and others who work directly with injured workers and have learned their work and life patterns. The rate varies greatly, from maybe 2% in West Virginia, a low foreign-born population state, to over half within the fruit and vegetable producing counties of southern California.

At my request, the Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group asked if its members were aware of intimidation, claim denials or arrests that arose from the use of other persons’ social security numbers. Within a few hours my email inbox lit up like a Christmas tree.

A Florida attorney with whom I had spoken earlier sent adjuster notes obtained through discovery for a June, 2012 injury at a dairy. The adjuster wrote on June 27, 2012, “claimant, three children, obtained SSN from his brother when his brother returned to Mexico. Married, 9th grade educ in Mexico.” In March, 2013, the adjuster wrote: “SIU check found that SSN was issued in Porto Rico some time between 1936 and 1950.”

In March, 2013, the adjuster wrote that the case had been referred to a West Palm Beach, Florida, investigator. On April 4 the notes state that the claimant was arrested for using a false number to gain employment and false filing of workers compensation claim. The legal basis for the arrest was not given but was most likely insurance fraud statute, 440.105 (4)(b), currently being challenged in superior courts (Florida v Brock].

This worker’s guileless comments about the passed down number shows how accustomed undocumented workers, their employers and workers’ compensation claims payers are to tacitly accommodating illegal work status while in processing workers’ compensation benefits. In all but a few jurisdictions, undocumented workers can legally obtain benefits, a right assured by state law and state superior courts.

What’s changed, it appears, is the climate. Perhaps tacitly going along is viewed by some as a form of amnesty. Maybe workers’ compensation fraud teams are hungrier for results and see identity theft as easier to document than traditional fraud such as faking disability.

Step back to consider the implications on the industry’s commitment, as phrased by the National Council on Compensation Insurance, to “help foster a healthy workers compensation system.”

Some applicant attorneys allege that defense lawyers sometime ensnare their undocumented clients by teasing out during depositions information they then package over to law enforcement. Sometimes, they tell me, there is a threat. “Retaliation and threats of retaliation have created a culture of fear,” The National Employment Law Project asserts, citing its recent survey that illegal immigrant workers are hesitant to file workers’ compensation claims or assert other rights out of fear of retaliation.

Workers’ compensation benefits and work safety join in a circular flow of cause and correction. Len Welch, Chief of Workplace Safety for California’s largest workers’ compensation insurer, the State Compensation Insurance Fund, says that immigration reform could be the most important work safety advance in the next five to 10 years. “When you have undocumented workers, the odds of accidents go way up. It’s the tip of the iceberg of the massive underground economy in the state,” he said.

James Baldwin, debating William Buckley at Cambridge University in 1965, described the legacy of slavery as the tragedy of “when one has absolute power over another person.” To the undocumented worker, her or his employer holds nearly absolute power over safety. A work injury could result in jail time and deportation. Neither workers’ compensation system and worksite safety are healthy when one tenth of injured workers can are in a constant state of vulnerability.

Mike Whiteley’s article is behind a paywall. If you are not a subscriber, you can purchase access to the article. https://ww3.workcompcentral.com/news/story/id/071f36056523bac7ae4e8e310a166913m

Posted by pfr at 9:45 AM Link to, Comment (0), or E-mail this post

May 5, 2014

California’s undocumented immigrants use fewer health services

From the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research: undocumented immigrants in California see the doctor and visit emergency rooms significantly less often than U.S. citizens and documented immigrants.

One in five U.S.-born adults visits the ER annually, compared with roughly one in 10 undocumented adults — approximately half the rate of U.S.-born residents.

"The great majority of undocumented in California are working-age adults who contribute greatly to California's economy by working in physically demanding service, agriculture and construction jobs," project director Nadereh Pourat said. "It makes financial sense to make sure they have affordable health coverage options so they can stay healthy."

"The undocumented who end up in the emergency room have often delayed getting any care until they are critically sick."

The study also found that undocumented immigrants' average number of doctor visits per year was lower: 2.3 for children and 1.3 for adults, compared with 2.8 doctor visits for U.S.-born children and 3.2 for adults.

Nine percent of uninsured undocumented immigrants had visited the ER, significantly lower than the 12 percent of uninsured U.S.-born residents, who had the highest ER use of all groups.

In 2009, California was home to more than 2.2 million undocumented immigrants, the study found. And while these immigrants make up 6.8 percent of California's residents, they represent nearly a quarter of the state's uninsured population.

The undocumented don't get preventive care, potentially leading to more advanced disease and higher public expenditures.

The 2010 Affordable Care Act extended access to health coverage to about 3.3 million people in the state but not to California's more than 2.2 million undocumented immigrants, the study notes.

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March 22, 2014

Health coverage and health literary among adult Hispanics

The news is not good about health insurance coverage and health literacy among adult Hispanics. I have excerpted below from survey results and an overview article in Health Affairs. These findings cast a shadow over the Affordable Care Act and workers’ compensation (in which about a substantial share of injured workers have non-occupational health conditions that need attention to achieve a resolution of the injury).

Low enrollments in health insurance

Thirty-six percent of Hispanic adults reported being uninsured in late 2013, confirming that they are much more likely to lack coverage than other racial or ethnic groups. This rate is triple the rate of uninsurance among whites (12%) and a third higher than blacks and non-white Hispanics (27%) (these figures from the Urban Institute’s report noted below).

Despite the ACA’s coverage expansions, over half of the uninsured Hispanic population (55 percent) reported that they expect to remain uninsured in 2014. (These expectations are not likely due to the immigration status of Hispanics and its effect on eligibility, because uninsured white non-Hispanic and non-white non-Hispanic adults have similar expectations about coverage.)

Health illiteracy

Overall, the gap in understanding health insurance concepts between nonwhite and Hispanic adults and those who are non-Hispanic white is almost 20 percentage points, with just 27.8 percent of nonwhite or Hispanic respondents saying they feel confident that they understand all nine terms. For each of the nine terms asked about, no more than 60.2 percent of nonwhite or Hispanic adults were either very or somewhat confident in their understanding of it.


Health Affairs, Why Are Hispanics Slow To Enroll In ACA Coverage? March 18 2014 (subscription required.

The Urban Institute’s Health Reform Monitoring Survey January 21, 2014, What Health Insurance Coverage Changes Are the Uninsured Anticipating for 2014?

The Urban Institute, Public Understanding of Basic Health Insurance Concepts on the Eve of Health Reform (late 2013)

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February 18, 2014

Home Economics: the lives of domestic workers

The National Domestic Workers Alliance issued a report titled Home Economics which reveals much about the working conditions of domestic workers. A large share of domestic workers are immigrants.

Key findings in the report:

Domestic workers earn substandard pay, and enjoy little economic mobility or financial security.

Formal employment contracts are rare in the domestic work industry, and where work agreements do exist, employers frequently violate them.

Employers think of their homes as safe, yet domestic work can be hazardous.

Domestic workers who encounter problems frequently feel too vulnerable to stand up for themselves, especially live-in workers and undocumented immigrants.

The survey revealed that substandard working conditions are pervasive in the domestic work industry. Wage rates are low, the work is often hazardous, and workers rarely have effective recourse to improve substandard conditions.

A few of the facts in the report:

About a third of domestic workers nationwide are foreign born. About two thirds of domestic workers in major metropolitan areas are foreign born.
23 percent of workers surveyed are paid below the state minimum wage.
The median hourly wage of live-in workers is $6.15.
Less than 9 percent work for employers who pay into Social Security.
60 percent spend more than half of their income on rent or mortgage payments.
85 percent of undocumented immigrants who encountered problems with their working conditions in the prior 12 months did not complain because they feared their immigration status would be used against them.

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February 15, 2014

Trends in state immigration laws, from punitive to constructive

There has been a major change in state immigration legislation patterns State legislative activity rose in the late 2000s, taking on a punitive color, and rising to passage of the comprehensive Arizona law in 2010. That passage lead to other state laws aimed to driving out undocumented residents. All of these acts were challenged in court and some revisions results.

More recently, the focus of state legislatures is more constructive. There is a salutary recognition that states, their economies depending on undocumented workers, needed to provide these workers legal protections to drive. Also, state legislatures increasingly petition Congress to pass immigration reform at the federal level. For a detailed review of legislation, go here and here. The content below comes from these pages.

Latino Decisions notes that As of June 30, 2013, 43 states had enacted 146 laws and 231 resolutions focused on immigration. This is reflective of a larger pattern where state activity on immigration issues spiked from just 300 proposed bills and 39 enacted laws in 2005 to over 1,500 proposed bills and over 200 enacted state laws in 2009.

Omnibus laws.

The first omnibus act was Arizona’s 2010 legislation, SB 1070.

Omnibus legislation related to immigration enforcement has largely disappeared. In 2011, 30 states introduced more than 50 bills, with Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah enacting laws similar to Arizona’s SB 1070. Each was challenged in court. In 2012, five states considered similar bills: Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Rhode Island and West Virginia. None of these bills were enacted. Alabama amended its 2011 law, HB 56, enacting HB 658 in 2012. In 2013, only Georgia acted, by amending E-Verify requirements, public benefit definitions, and driver’s license requirements, and required agencies or political subdivisions to comply with federal law on public benefits for postsecondary education (S 160).

Driving protections

Driver’s licenses and IDs continued to be a top issue for states, with 35 laws enacted in 21 states, comprising 19 percent of all enacted laws on immigration.

Eight states—California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon and Vermont—joined New Mexico, Utah and Washington in extending driver’s license eligibility to unauthorized residents. Georgia and Maine enacted more limited laws in 2013. Georgia allows for a temporary driving permit for those with pending visa extensions. Maine exempts certain older or long-term driver’s license holders from the legal presence requirement. (A law passed in the District of Columbia is pending review by Congress.)

Formal resolutions in support of immigration reform

Resolutions spiked in 2013, with 31 states adopting 253 resolutions, up from 111 in 2012. The largest contributor was Texas, adopting 96 resolutions commending the contributions of immigrants and seeking federal action. Resolutions encouraged action by the president, Congress or federal agencies, including at least 11 resolutions related to passing comprehensive immigration reform (California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, and Pennsylvania).

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February 10, 2014

No immigration reform? Big cutbacks in farm production, higher food prices

The American Farm Bureau today issued a report that forecasts declining production and higher imported food prices if immigration reform is not enacted.

The report, Gauging the Farm Sector’s Sensitivity to Immigration Reform via Changes in Labor Costs and Availability, looks at three policy options: (1) enforcement only, as today, (2) general legalization, and (3) guest worker program for agriculture.

The report says that “the hardest-hit domestic food sectors under an enforcement-only scenario are fruit production, which would plummet by 30-61 percent, and vegetable production, which would decline by 15-31 percent. The study also pointed out that while many consider fruit and vegetable production the most labor-reliant sector, livestock production in the U.S. would fall by 13-27 percent.”

“Over five years, an enforcement-only approach would lead to losses in farm income large enough to trigger large scale restructuring of the sector, higher food prices, and greater dependence on imported products.” Stallman said.

The report says that “For a number of reasons, agriculture serves as the bottom rung on the undocumented labor ladder. Many undocumented workers start working in agriculture but move on from agriculture as quickly as possible—particularly if/when changes in their legal status gives them entry into the labor market outside agriculture.”

The press release for the report is here.

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January 26, 2014

Importance of work safety training in native language

UL Workplace Safety and Health, a company that provides safety training and other human resource tools to employers, posted in late 2013 about the importance of safety training in the native language of the worker.

Teri Hale, who is Operations Manager of Professional Learning Services, wrote the following (this is an excerpt):

Misinterpretation can lead to lower productivity, lost revenue and more seriously, injury and loss of life. This is especially true in high-risk sectors such as manufacturing, oil and gas exploration, and construction. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that language barriers are a contributing factor in 25 percent of job-related accidents. Moreover, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that fatal injury rates were 69 percent higher for foreign-born Hispanic workers than for native-born Hispanic workers (who tend to have a better grasp of English).

In 2010, OSHA announced an initiative in which it directed compliance officers to observe whether employers provide employees safety training in a language they understand. Employers who fail to properly train their employees are subject to citations and penalties.

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January 2, 2014

More on Pro Publica’s temp worker report: higher injury risk

Pro Publica also reported on the higher injury risk of temporary workers, as follows:

A ProPublica analysis of millions of workers’ compensation claims shows that in five states, representing more than a fifth of the U.S. population, temps face a significantly greater risk of getting injured on the job than permanent employees.

In California and Florida, two of the largest states, temps had about 50 percent greater risk of being injured on the job than non-temps. That risk was 36 percent higher in Massachusetts, 66 percent in Oregon and 72 percent in Minnesota.

These statistics understate the dangers faced by blue-collar temps like Davis. Nationwide, temps are far more likely to find jobs in dangerous occupations like manufacturing and warehousing. And their likelihood of injury grows dramatically.

In Florida, for example, temps in blue-collar workplaces were about six times as likely to be injured than permanent employees doing similar jobs.

The findings were particularly stark for severe injuries. In Florida, the data shows, temps were about twice as likely as regular employees to suffer crushing injuries, dislocations, lacerations, fractures and punctures. They were about three times as likely to suffer an amputation on the job in Florida and the three other states for which such records are available.

ProPublica interviewed more than 100 temp workers across the nation and reviewed more than 50 Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigations involving temp worker accidents.

The interviews and OSHA files revealed situations that occur over and over again: untrained laborers asphyxiated while cleaning the inside of chemical tanks, caught in heavy machinery such as food grinders and tire shredders, and afflicted by heat stroke after a long day on a garbage truck or roof.

The lightly regulated blue-collar temp world is one where workers are often sent to do dangerous jobs with little or no training. Where the company overseeing the work isn’t required to pay the medical bills if temps get hurt. And where, when temp workers do get injured on the job, the temp firm and the company fight with each other over who is responsible, sometimes even delaying emergency medical care while they sort it out.

Posted by pfr at 8:31 PM Link to, Comment (0), or E-mail this post

Pro Publica’s investigation of temporary labor: Raiteros

Pro Publica took aim during 2013 at the low wage temp industry. It reported that “Across America, temporary work has become a mainstay of the economy, leading to the proliferation of what researchers have begun to call “temp towns.” They are often dense Latino neighborhoods teeming with temp agencies. Or they are cities where it has become nearly impossible even for whites and African-Americans with vocational training to find factory and warehouse work without first being directed to a temp firm.

“In June, the Labor Department reported that the nation had more temp workers than ever before: 2.7 million. Overall, almost one-fifth of the total job growth since the recession ended in mid-2009 has been in the temp sector, federal data shows.”

It investigated labor brokers (raiteros) in Chicago:

Immigrant labor brokers known as raiteros have helped create a system where temp agencies and their corporate clients benefit from cheap, just-in-time labor. Raiteros don’t just drive workers to their jobs. They also recruit the workers, decide who works and doesn't and distribute paychecks, making them unofficial agents of the temp firms.

But the temp agencies don’t pay the raiteros. [A state law forbad that practice years ago.] Instead, it’s the low-wage workers who pay them, ostensibly for transportation. Those fees, together with unpaid waiting times, depress workers' pay well below the minimum wage.

Continue reading "Pro Publica’s investigation of temporary labor: Raiteros" »

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