Locations of worker centers in U.S.

Janice Fine’s Worker Centers: Organizing communities at the Edge of the Dream includes contact information for 137 worker centers, 122 of which are expressly focused on serving immigrant workers. their distribution by state. A online map of the country with these centers can be found here.
AZ – 3
AR – 1
CA – 29
CO – 1
DC – 1
FL – 6
IL – 8
IN – 2
ME – 1
MA – 5
MI – 1
MN – 3
MS -2
MT – 1
NE – 1
NJ – 5
NV – 1
NY – 24
NC – 7
OH – 3
OR – 4
PA – 3
RI – 1
SC – 1
TX – 6
UT – 1
VT – 1
VA – 4
WA – 5
WI – 4

Labor centers for immigrant workers

If one takes into account well staffed entities as well as simple hiring halls, there are probably up to 200 centers dedicated to supporting immigrant workers in obtaining work, learning about American labor practices, and securing their labor rights. I have been to two such centers: The Brazilian Immigrant Center in Boston, and the Watsonville Law Center in Watsonville, CA. I have also visited a makeshift center – more of a hiring hall – in Brooklyn.
Janice Fine of Rutgers University has published a book on this topic: “Worker Centers: Organizing Communities at the Edge of the Dream”. Cornell U Press summarizes the book: “[She] identifies 137 worker centers in more than eighty cities, suburbs, and rural areas in thirty-one states. These centers, which attract workers in industries that are difficult to organize, have emerged as especially useful components of any program intended to assist immigrants and low-wage workers of color. Worker centers serve not only as organizing laboratories but also as places where immigrants and other low-wage workers can participate in civil society, tell their stories to the larger community, resist racism and anti-immigrant sentiment, and work to improve their political and economic standing.”
Fine defines labor centers as “community-based mediating institutions that provide support to low-wage immigrants. Part settlement house, part local civil rights organization, and part union, the centers pursue this mission through a combination of approaches.”
Pablo Alvarado of the National Day Labor Organizing Network proposed seven characteristics of a well runs center:

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Strangers No Longer: Catholic Church’s statement on Hispanic illegal immigration

This February 2003, pastoral letter signed by Mexican and American bishops in the Catholic Church forms a foundation for the church’s strong support of immigration reform that gives undocumented immigrants legal protections. The letter addresses the broad social issues of all Hispanic immigration.
Selected numbered paragraphs:
102. We recognize the phenomenon of migration as an authentic sign of the times. We see it in both our countries through the suffering of those who have been forced to become migrants for many reasons. To such a sign we must respond in common and creative ways so that we may strengthen the faith, hope, and charity of migrants and all the People of God. Such a sign is a call to transform national and international social, economic, and political structures so that they may provide the conditions required for the development for all, without exclusion and discrimination against any person in any circumstance.
103. In effect, the Church is increasingly called to be “sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race” (Lumen Gentium, no. 1). The Catholic bishops of the United States and Mexico, in communion with the Holy Father in his 1995 World Migration Day message, affirm that
In the Church no one is a stranger, and the Church is not foreign to anyone, anywhere. As a sacrament of unity and thus a sign and a binding force for the whole human race, the Church is the place where illegal immigrants are also recognized and accepted as brothers and sisters. It is the task of the various Dioceses actively to ensure that these people, who are obliged to live outside the safety net of civil society, may find a sense of brotherhood in the Christian community. Solidarity means taking responsibility for those in trouble.
The Church must, therefore, welcome all persons regardless of race, culture, language, and nation with joy, charity, and hope. It must do so with special care for those who find themselves–regardless of motive–in situations of poverty, marginalization, and exclusion.

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The Farmworker Justice Fund

This organization, now in its 25th year, promotes improvement in working and living conditions of farmworkers, especially immigrant migrants. It has backed AgJobs legislation, the topic of a future posting.
It’s “Pro-Farmworker Agenda” focuses on
1. Farm Labor Housing and Housing Development Capacity: Farmworkers’ low wages, reluctance to allow farmworker housing in some communities, failure to maintain existing housing, inadequate government funding and other causes have led to a crisis-level shortage of housing and inadequate sanitation.
2. Workers’ Compensation: Farmworkers continue to be discriminated against in many state regarding access to workers’ compensation for work-related injury and illness.
3. “Right to know” about toxic occupational chemicals. Farmworkers have been denied coverage under the hazard communication program of the Occupational Safety and Health Act ….We suggest a federal pilot program in several states to examine whether granting farmworkers the right to know about occupational chemicals reduces the incidence and severity of work-related illness and injury.
4. Farmers’ transition away from toxic pesticides to safer pest control methods would substantially benefit farmworkers by reducing their exposure to toxic chemicals at work.
5. Freedom of Association: Farmworkers employed in an industry substantially supported by government deserve the right to join and organize labor unions free from retaliation, but they presently lack that right. The federal National Labor Relations Act grants that right to other workers but specifically excludes farmworkers. We suggest amending the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, the principal federal employment law regarding farmworkers, to grant workers the right to organize, join and participate in labor unions without being discharged or discriminated against in any way by their employers or labor contractors.
6. Unemployment compensation benefits: Business difficulties and the nature of seasonal agriculture prevent many farmworkers from working year-round. Most workers in seasonal industries, such as construction and tourism, can rely on unemployment compensation if they cannot find other jobs during the off-season. a minimum, a business receiving government support should provide unemployment insurance.
7. Transportation to and from work: Many farmworkers do not own their own motor vehicles and live or work in rural areas where there is not public transportation. In many locations, a dangerous business practice has developed. Contractors take money from farmworkers and deliver them to the work site, often in dangerous vehicles, many of which are minivans that lack seats and seat belts.
8. Overtime Pay: Federal law excludes agricultural workers from the payment of time-and-one-half for work in excess of forty hours per week. In California, state law grants overtime to farmworkers after ten hours of work in a day and California remains a highly productive, profitable agricultural state.
9. A Living Wage: The federal minimum wage is utterly inadequate as a minimum wage rate, especially for seasonal employees like farmworkers, whose annual earnings average only about $7,500. A government-supported business should be expected to provide decent work, which includes compliance with all labor laws and a living wage.

SAFE: Socially Accountable Farm Employers in Florida

Here is an example of a community-based organization and an employers association joining forces to bolster employee protections and rights of farm workers in Florida. They conduct audits to check for compliance with a code of conduct. Audit scope includes forced labor, child labor, discrimination, wages and benefits, employment records, healthy and safe work environment, and housing.
An executive of a farming corporation told me that

Their auditors were very professional and knowledgeable and really dug into our operations for hiring, screening, training, payroll, benefits, safety, insurance, chemical handling, housing, etc. They also conducted interviews with 50+ employees. Oh yeah, the SAFE audit is conducted annually to maintain your certification.

According to SAFE….

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Wall Street Journal article on Brazilian immigrant cleaning business in MA

Today’s Wall Street Journal profiles Brazilian home cleaning businesses in MA. The businesses are so well developed that a buy-sell market has emerged; the Internet is used to communicate and clients; and Craig’s list is used to recruit workers. The hub of the cleaning business is in Somerville, MA, which according to the Boston Globe’s analysis of census data, 31% of new immigrants are Portuguese speaking (Brazilian or Portuguese). We have already profiled the Brazilian Immigrant Center.
Tufts University is undertaking a collaborative multi-year project in Somerville to study and support economic growth among immigrants. Included in the project is the introduction of “green” cleaning materials for cleaning businesses.
Among a number of initiatives, this project

…. will also break new ground by launching an entirely new business model for immigrant workers: a non-profit green cleaning cooperative that will help to break down the barrier of isolation faced by these workers. “Brazilian women cleaners form a large occupational group working and living in Somerville who can benefit from this new structure and by learning about safe work practices and the benefits of using environmentally friendly cleaning products,” said Monica Chianelli, coordinator, Brazilian Women’s Group.

“Immigrants have accounted for 82 percent of the growth of the labor force in Massachusetts since the mid 1980s. Somerville, which has seen the number of foreign-born residents grow by 34 percent in 10 years, is an important gateway for newcomers,” explained Principal Investigator David M. Gute, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Tufts University and an epidemiologist.

Migrant Clinicians Network

The Migrant Clinicians Network engages in healthcare delivery and healthcare research for low income workers including but not exclusively migrant workers. Their new Saving Lives by Changing Practice project is attempting to improve the quality of service to work injured clients. Amy Liebman is coordinating the program. She provided me with this introduction to the program.
For an earlier posting on community health clinic services to injured workers, go here.
Amy K. Liebman, MPA
Migrant Clinicians Network
410.860.9850 aliebman@migrantclincian.org
There are numerous barriers to recognizing and treating environmental and occupational health (EOH) problems in the primary care setting. Some of the underlying reasons are the limited EOH training front line providers receive as well as institutional challenges that prevent clinicians from adequately addressing EOH problems.

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Brazilian Immigrant Center (Boston, MA)

The Brazilian Immigrant Center in Boston — o Centro do Imigrante Brasileiro — runs a large number of educational and community action programs on behalf of the 100,000+ Brazilian workers in and around Boston. The site offers Portuguese and English options.
in English:

Who Are We???
The Brazilian Immigrant Center is a community-based organization working to empower Brazilians in the Greater Boston Area around issues of access to education, workplace rights and immigration. Our work is done through advocacy, education, organizing and leadership/capacity building.

What Are Our Goals???
The BIC’s mission is to unite Brazilian immigrants to organize against economic, social and political marginalization, and to help create a just society.

in Portuques:

Quem Somos Nós???
O Centro do Imigrante Brasileiro é uma organização, baseada nesta comunidade, procurando melhorar as vidas dos brasileiros em Boston, através de treinamento, organização e desenvolvimento de suas capacidades para liderança.

Qual é o Nosso Objetivo???
O objetivo do CIB é de organizar um movimento unido de brasileiros contra discriminação econômica, social e política.