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September 16, 2009

Global Workers Defender Network

New from the Global Workers Justice Alliance (press release):

The Global Workers Defender Network is comprised of human rights organizations and individual advocates, in the migrant sending countries, who facilitate employment law cases for migrant workers in partnership with advocates in the countries of employment. The Defenders also identify cases of migrants who have suffered labor exploitation and educate migrants on their labor rights.

The Defender Network was launched in April 2008 in Chiapas, Mexico when the first group convened for an intensive training. Through the training program, the Defenders learned about U.S. employment-related law, human trafficking, U.S. civil procedure, and international law. For more information and photos from the training, click here.

Currently, the Global Workers Defender Network is operational in Mexico and Guatemala. Over time, the Network will expand within Mexico and Guatemala as well as to additional countries.

September 8, 2009

Study of low income workers in New York City: violations of worker protections

Unregulated Work in New York City was published in 2007 by the Brennan Center At New Yorl University Law School, principal author Annette Bernhardt. This study analyzes numerous ways by which worker protections are being compromised by employers. . The study was “product of three and a half years of intensive research conducted in New York City between 2003 and 2006.”

Of the 326 persons interviewed, the distribution of respondents was: 116 workers; 84 employers; 10 staff members of governmental regulatory agencies; 19 staff members of labor unions; 22 staff members of policy advocacy organizations; and 75 staff members of other non-profit organizations, including legal services providers, social services providers, and community-based organizations.

Groceries and supermarkets, Retail, Restaurants, Building maintenance & security,
Publicly-subsidized child care, Domestic work, Home health care, Residential construction, Food and apparel manufacturing, Laundry and dry cleaning, Taxis and dollar vans, Auto repair, garages and car washes and Personal services such as nail and beauty salons were covered.

Annette Bernhardt, Ph.D., is Deputy Director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program and co-directs its Economic Justice Project. She coordinates the Center’s policy analysis and research for national and local campaigns around living wage jobs, workers’ rights, and accountable development. Her books include Low-Wage America: How Employers are Reshaping Opportunity in the Workplace as well as Divergent Paths: Economic Mobility in the New American Labor Market, which was awarded Princeton University’s Lester Prize for the best new work in labor economics in 2002.

Here is a summary of the study’s scope:

Our fieldwork identified eight broad categories of workplace violations being committed by some employers in New York City:

• Wage and hour violations: We documented employers paying less than the minimum wage, failing to pay overtime, not paying at all, forcing employees to work off the clock, not giving breaks, stealing workers’ tips, and violating prevailing wage laws on public construction projects.
• Health and safety violations: We documented employers failing to provide guards on machinery, allowing extreme temperatures and improper ventilation, requiring employees to work on unsafe scaffolding, exposing them to chemical and airborne toxins, and failing to provide goggles, masks, and other protective equipment.
• Workers’ compensation violations: We documented employers failing to carry workers’ comppensation insurance required by law, and preventing injured workers from filing workers’ compensation claims
• Retaliation and violations of the right to organize: We documented employers firing or punishing workers who sought to improve working conditions, as well as making pre-emptive threats to report workers to immigration authorities.
• Independent contractor misclassification: We documented employers misclassifying their workers as independent contractors in order to evade their legal obligation under employment and labor laws.
• Employer tax violations: We documented employers either fully or partially failing to pay required payroll taxes on cash wages.
• Discrimination: In our research, discrimination on the basis of race, gender, country of
origin and criminal history manifested itself in firing, hiring, promotion, and in the explicit sorting of workers into stereotyped occupations.
Trafficking and forced labor: While not the focus of our research, we documented instances of workers being trafficked and being prevented from leaving their jobs through passport seizure, debt bondage, threats, physical force, or captivity.

September 2, 2009

New study on exploitation of low wage workers

A new study, Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers, reports widespread violations of wage and workers compensation laws among low wage workers. The study, conducted in early 2008 with 4,387 workers, was divided among illegal immigrants (39%), legal immigrants (31%) and native Americans (30%).

The median was a little over $8 an hour. 26% of the workers had been paid less than the minimum wage the week before being surveyed and that one in seven had worked off the clock the previous week. 76% of those who had worked overtime the week before were not paid their proper overtime, the researchers found. A large majority of injured workers did not report their injuries into the workers compensation system.

In instances when workers’ compensation should have been used, the study found, one third of workers injured on the job paid the bills for treatment out of their own pocket and 22 percent used their health insurance. Workers’ compensation insurance paid medical expenses for only 6 percent of the injured workers surveyed, the researchers found.

The New York Times article on the study:

Low-Wage Workers Are Often Cheated, Study Says

Low-wage workers are routinely denied proper overtime pay and are often paid less than the minimum wage, according to a new study based on a survey of workers in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

The study, the most comprehensive examination of wage-law violations in a decade, also found that 68 percent of the workers interviewed had experienced at least one pay-related violation in the previous work week.

“We were all surprised by the high prevalence rate,” said Ruth Milkman, one of the study’s authors and a sociology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the City University of New York. The study, to be released on Wednesday, was financed by the Ford, Joyce, Haynes and Russell Sage Foundations.

In surveying 4,387 workers in various low-wage industries, including apparel manufacturing, child care and discount retailing, the researchers found that the typical worker had lost $51 the previous week through wage violations, out of average weekly earnings of $339. That translates into a 15 percent loss in pay.

The researchers said one of the most surprising findings was how successful low-wage employers were in pressuring workers not to file for workers’ compensation. Only 8 percent of those who suffered serious injuries on the job filed for compensation to pay for medical care and missed days at work stemming from those injuries.

“The conventional wisdom has been that to the extent there were violations, it was confined to a few rogue employers or to especially disadvantaged workers, like undocumented immigrants,” said Nik Theodore, an author of the study and a professor of urban planning and policy at the University of Illinois, Chicago. “What our study shows is that this is a widespread phenomenon across the low-wage labor market in the United States.”

According to the study, 39 percent of those surveyed were illegal immigrants, 31 percent legal immigrants and 30 percent native-born Americans.

The study found that 26 percent of the workers had been paid less than the minimum wage the week before being surveyed and that one in seven had worked off the clock the previous week. In addition, 76 percent of those who had worked overtime the week before were not paid their proper overtime, the researchers found.

The new study, “Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers,” was conducted in the first half of 2008, before the brunt of the recession hit. The median wage of the workers surveyed was $8.02 an hour — supervisors were not surveyed — with more than three-quarters of those interviewed earning less than $10 an hour. When the survey was conducted, the minimum wage was $7.15 in New York State, $7.50 in Illinois and $8 in California.

Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis responded to the report with an e-mail statement, saying, “There is no excuse for the disregard of federal labor standards — especially those designed to protect the neediest among us.” Ms. Solis said she was in the process of hiring 250 more wage-and-hour investigators. “Today’s report clearly shows we still have a major task before us,” she said.

The study’s authors noted that many low-wage employers comply with wage and labor laws. The National Federation of Independent Business, which represents small-business owners, said it encouraged members “to stay in compliance with state and federal labor laws.”

But many small businesses say they are forced to violate wage laws to remain competitive.

The study found that women were far more likely to suffer minimum wage violations than men, with the highest prevalence among women who were illegal immigrants. Among American-born workers, African-Americans had a violation rate nearly triple that for whites.

“These practices are not just morally reprehensible, but they’re bad for the economy,” said Annette Bernhardt, an author of the study and policy co-director of the National Employment Law Project. “When unscrupulous employers break the law, they’re robbing families of money to put food on the table, they’re robbing communities of spending power and they’re robbing governments of vital tax revenues.”

When the Russell Sage Foundation announced a grant to help finance the survey, it said that low-wage workers were “hard to find” for interviews and that “government compliance surveys shy away from the difficult task of measuring workplace practices beyond the standard wage, benefits and hours questions.”

The report found that 57 percent of workers sampled had not received mandatory pay documents the previous week, which are intended to help make sure pay is legal and accurate. Of workers who receive tips, 12 percent said their employer had stolen some of the tips.

One in five workers reported having lodged a complaint about wages to their employer or trying to form a union in the previous year, and 43 percent of them said they had experienced some form of illegal retaliation, like firing or suspension, the study said.

In instances when workers’ compensation should have been used, the study found, one third of workers injured on the job paid the bills for treatment out of their own pocket and 22 percent used their health insurance. Workers’ compensation insurance paid medical expenses for only 6 percent of the injured workers surveyed, the researchers found.

September 1, 2009

Immigration reform priorities of the administration

The Dallas Morning News carried an interview with Janet Napolitano, former governor of Arizona and now head of Homeland Security. Read what she had to say. Note how regularization of the status of 12 million illegal immigrants (about 7 million of them workers) she keeps in the background. I have a hard time imagining that immigration reform will happen in 2009 or 2010. I support the guest worker program concept, which she does not mention.

The article:

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Thursday that she was optimistic that a bipartisan immigration-policy overhaul would, at some point, get through Congress.

'This is not a new issue,' she said in a meeting with The Dallas Morning News' editorial board. 'It's just putting together a comprehensive package that covers the immigration issues from A to Z. ... It's a priority for both me and the president.'

Napolitano expressed hope that the effort, which has bogged down in Congress in years past, would not be as contentious as it was under former President George W. Bush.

She did not say when a bill would ultimately be considered since Congress and the White House are now consumed with health care legislation. So changes to immigration policy could be further down the road, though she has had meetings with Sen. Charles Schumer, the New York Democrat expected to take the lead on the issue.

'There is a bipartisan recognition that the current law is outdated and needs to be brought up to date with our current needs,' she said.

Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona, has dealt with the effects of illegal immigration for much of her career in public service.

She said an immigration bill should focus on the following:

*Developing or bolstering the penalties for employers who repeatedly hire illegal immigrants.

*Stamping out the new tactics human traffickers and money launderers are using to exploit the border.

*Developing programs that would allow seasonal workers to legally enter the country.

*Updating the visa process to allow students with capabilities the country needs to remain in the U.S.

Napolitano added that there needed to be a way to deal with illegal immigrants in the country and their desire for citizenship, including having them pay a fine, pay taxes, and not have criminal records.

'Nobody is in favor of amnesty,' she said.