National Employment Law Project on wage abuses

The National Employment Law Project (NELP) describes itself as a non profit law and policy organization advocating on behalf of low-wage, unemployed and immigrant workers. It has recently published two papers on civil and criminal penalties for non-payment of wages. Non-payment, delays in payment, and failure to pay overtime are common complaints among immigrant workers.
The two papers are Fifty state chart of penalties for unpaid wages and Criminal penalties for failure to pay wages

serious worker injuries by ethnic group, job and diagnosis

A commentor wrote to ask if I have for work fatalities of immigrants a breakdown by types of jobs, particular immigrant group most effected, etc. I have an indirect positive answer to this question, in the form of an ethnic analysis of work related hospitalizations. Researchers published in October 2005 a study of work related hospitalizations by ethnic groups in Massachusetts.
According to the authors,

This article reports on the use of statewide hospital discharge data to describe patterns of serious occupational injuries (that is, injuries requiring hospitalization) among racial and ethnic groups in Massachusetts.

The authors present a breakdown of hospitalizations by medical diagnosis, job and ethnic breakdown: white, black, Asian, American Indian, Hispanic, and other or unknown. They were able to show a relationship between the type of job and the type of injury (for instance: burns = restaurant work).
In a later posting I will summerize their findings.

Occupational fatalities of immigrants

The June, 2004 issue of the Monthly Labor Review published Foreign-born workers: trends in fatal occupational injuries, 1996–2001 by Katherine Loh and Scott Richardson. From the text:

New immigrants who arrived in the United States during the 1990-2001 period accounted for 50.3 percent of the growth in the Nation’s civilian labor force. That is, one out of every two net new labor force participants during this period was a new foreign immigrant. Historically, Current Population Survey (CPS) figures show that foreign-born workers, who accounted for 1 in every 17 workers in 1960, increased their share of the labor force to one in eight by 2000.

As the share of foreign-born employment has increased, so has the share of fatal occupational injuries to foreign-born workers. Yet, while the share of foreign-born employment increased by 22 percent from 1996 to 2000 the share of fatal occupational injuries for this population increased by 43 percent. This increase in fatal work injuries among foreign-born workers occurred at a time when the overall number of fatal occupational injuries to U.S. workers declined by 5 percent. As a result, the fatality rate for foreign-born workers has not mirrored the improvement seen in the overall fatality rate over this period. In 2001, the fatality rate for all U.S. workers decreased to a series low of 4.3 per 100,000 workers, but the fatality rate for foreign-born workers recorded a series high of 5.7 per 100,000 workers.

TN’s program for driver’s license and Real ID

What is going on with driver’s licenses and immigrants? And what is Real ID?
The State of Tennessee is cited as a state intent on making a driver’s license or certificate available two individuals without requiring a valid social security number. According to a recent AP story published in the Washington Post (registration required), Tennessee continues to have a liberal policy towards awarding of driver’s licenses. This is at a time when state governments are beginning to struggle to comply with the Real ID requirements Congress imposed in 2005, to be effective in 2008.
The AP reported on 1/29/06 that

Tennessee has issued more than 51,000 certificates since it became the first state to offer them in July 2004, but not every certificate has gone to someone living there.

The disclosures come as Tennessee’s certificate system is being studied as a possible model for handling “non-conforming drivers” under the Real ID program recently enacted by Congress that will set a national standard for driver’s licenses by 2008.

Although the words “not valid for identification” appear in bold red letters on the face of the wallet-size certificates, banks accept them as legal ID.

“What we tried to do in Tennessee was to recognize that there are people who may be legally here but they are not completely documented,” Gov. Phil Bredesen said.

Tennessee had started licensing illegal immigrants, without a Social Security number requirement, in early 2001. More than 180,000 obtained licenses before 9-11 fears set in. The driving certificates were created in 2004 to satisfy homeland security concerns while allowing illegal immigrants to drive with certified proficiency.

Here is a brief analysis of Real ID when Congress passed it in May 2005 as part of a supplemental budget act. The following was excerpted from

According to the bill, the Homeland Security Department will be responsible for setting those standards. Under the Real ID Act, driver’s licenses and personal ID cards must include the cardholder’s legal name, date of birth, address, gender, signature, card number, digital photograph, physical security features to prevent tampering, counterfeiting or duplication and common machine readable technology with defined minimum data elements.

State motor vehicle administrators must verify the validity of at least four feeder documents, such as a Social Security card or passport, before issuing driver’s licenses or personal ID cards.

By Sept. 11, states must sign a memorandum of understanding with DHS to use the automated Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements system to verify the legal presence of a driver’s license applicant who is not a U.S. citizen. States must capture digital images of applicants and electronically exchange driver histories with other states.

According to the bill, the new measures would take effect in three years, possibly affecting travel and access for some individuals. For example, federal officials could stop people from boarding a plane or entering a building if they have a driver’s license or personal ID card from a state that does not comply with the federal standards.

The National Immigration Law Center issued in October 2005 a comparison of application requirements for U.S> Passport and “Real ID” Driver’s License.
National Employment Law Project contributed analysis used in the NILC’s study.

Size of the illegal alien population (2000 – 2005)

We will be addressing this matter multiple times as we explore in the future alternative ways of measuring the size of this population. This posting focuses on methods of measurement.
The Center for Immigration Studies summarizes how the Federal Current Population Survey handles this matter, in its Immigrants at Mid-Decade: A Snapshot of America’s Foreign-Born Population in 2005.

It is well established that illegal aliens do respond to government surveys such as the decennial census and the Current Population Survey. While the CPS does not ask the foreign-born if they are legal residents of the United States, the Urban Institute, the former INS, the Pew Hispanic Center, and the Census Bureau have all used socio-demographic characteristics in the data to estimate the size of the illegal population.15 Our preliminary estimates for the March 2005 CPS indicate that there were between 9.6 and 9.8 million illegal aliens in the survey. It must be remembered that this estimate only includes illegal aliens captured by the March CPS, not those missed by the survey. By design this estimate is consistent with those prepared by the Census Bureau, Immigration and Nationalization Service (INS), Urban Institute, and Pew Hispanic Center.16 While consistent with other research findings, it should be obvious that there is no definitive means of determining whether a respondent in the survey is an illegal alien with 100 percent certainty. We estimate that in 2000, based on the March 2000 CPS, that there were between seven and 7.2 million illegal aliens in the survey. This means about 2.5 to 2.7 million, or about half of the 5.2 million growth in the foreign born between 2000 and 2005 was due to growth in the illegal population. We also estimate that 3.6 to 3.8 million or almost half of the 7.9 million new arrivals are illegal immigrants.

Polarization of American labor market

A recent paper has proposed a “polarization” of the American labor market. This trend is directly relevant to how immigrants gain entry into the domestic economy.
Per the authors, work is expanding at the high and low ends with little or no growth in the “routine’ job middle, where the IT revolution (including enabling massive off-shoring) is destroying domestic jobs. The vast majority of immigrants would fit into the lower end of the polarized market. This raises in my mind concerns about what integration into the American economy means for the large majority of immigrants. I conversed by email with David Autor, one of the authors.

Continue reading Polarization of American labor market

Oakland garment workers and failure to file claims

This is a hot research topic. I recently entered a posting of 2002 study of Asian garment worker injuries in Oakland. I mentioned in the posting that while it offers useful insights into how immigrant workers experience injury risks at work, the study is flawed in its interpretation of the self-reported injury data. The research team was, simply stated, unaware of how injury experiences turn into workers comp claims.
Two researchers at Michigan State University, Jeff Biddle and Karen Roberts, published an article based on a large survey of Michigan workers. I use this study as a benchmark for how American citizens working for established large employer file workers comp claims (or do not). Immigrant worker experience should be contrasted with the MSU findings. Many in this study do not file, even for disabling injury. Some of them could access other benefits. But that’s not the whole complex and engaging picture. If you need to understand underreporting by immigrants compared to the norm, get their analysis in the December 2003 issue of Journal of Risk & Insurance.
RAND issued in 2005 a study of the effect of health insurance coverage on work injury claiming behavior of workers. Both the Rand and the Biddle and Roberts study reflect a more sophisticated understanding of workers comp.

New IL law to protect labor rights of day laborers

Public Act 94 -0511 (HB 3471), Illinois’ new Day Labor act went into effect January 1, 2006. This act is designed to fill a gap in labor protection laws.
The National Law Employment Project has said that the majority of workplace laws protecting day laborers and temporary workers were written for full-time, permanent employees. The short-term nature of the day labor and sub-contracting pose significant barriers to enforcement of laws and the workers do not receive the same benefits or wages as full-time permanent employees performing the same work.
Temporary employment agencies are integral to the day labor market. According to the Governor’s press release:

Although there are approximately 150 registered day and temporary labor service agencies with nearly 600 branch offices registered with the state, there are also many unlicensed agencies in Illinois.

Provisions of the Act include (per a press release from Governor’s Rod Blagojevich’s office):
Requiring agencies to provide workers with detailed employment and wage notices, which can be inspected by the IDOL;
Protecting day laborers’ paychecks from unreasonable deductions for meals and equipment;
Requiring agencies to pay workers for lost time when they are sent to a job, only to be sent back because the agency sent too many workers;
Requiring employers that contract with day or temporary labor agencies to verify that they are registered with IDOL or face monetary penalties;
Prohibiting agencies from charging workers fees for transportation between the agency and the job site and requiring that such transportation meet basic safety standards; and
Prohibiting agencies from retaliating or discriminating against a worker who exercises his or her rights under the Act and giving workers the right to sue for damages when harmed by violations.
This new law will allow IDOL to impose a $500 penalty against a day labor agency for each day it is not registered. For all other violations, the department may fine first-time violators up to $6,000 and repeat violators up to $2,500 per violation per day. To pay for increased enforcement of the day and temporary labor industry, the legislation increases agency registration fees to $1,000 and adds a fee of $250 per branch office.
The state has a hot line to report problems: 877-314-7052. Or, to file a complaint or get information go online. The reporting systems are described on the website of the IL Department of Labor’s webpage on day labor.

Mexican Immigrants save Vermont milk industry

Mexican workers are effectively helping to save Vermont’s cherished milk farms. The farms are in danger of being wiped out by competition. Milk production accounts for 80% of the state’s farm output and dairy farms are an icon of Vermont life. Mexican immigrants today account for an estimated on third of milk farm labor in the state. Farmers say that help is otherwise not available.
A recent report by John Dillon on Vermont Public Radio on Mexican workers on Vermont farms revealed how the state is implicitly collaborating with farmers to ensure that undocumented workers are available. It starts with the submission of the Citizenship and Immigration Services’ I-9 form.
According to the story, the Vermont Department of Agriculture advises farmers

To make certain that the documents that are required for the I-9 are there. The employer, the farmer, has no requirement to test the validity of the documents.

It’s kind of like “don’t ask, don’t tell”. The news story said that

Federal immigration officials usually leave the farms alone. But workers can get turned in and deported if they get a speeding ticket, or if they’re stopped by police for a routine traffic violation…. Agriculture Secretary Steve Kerr says it’s common knowledge that the papers many Mexicans carry are fake.

IL Governor supports Panel on Latino Work Safety

In late 2005 Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois gave his support to the findings and recommendations of a Panel on Latino Workplace Injuries and Fatalities. I will be delivering more information in the future about this panel, the first such major state panel on immigrant work safety to my knowledge. It is a model for other states to emulate.
Go here for the 11/9/05 press release.
According to the press release the Panel’s top five recommendations are:

Creating a Worker Safety Fund to support a collaborative partnership and outreach strategy statewide between community-based organizations and government agencies to, among other things, develop worker safety materials in Spanish and provide health and safety training in Spanish.

Streamlining and coordinating government services for workers and business in the state by relocating the On-Site Safety and Health Consultation team to the Illinois Department of Labor (IDOL) from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO).

Strengthening enforcement of the existing Day Labor Services Act, including increased penalties against unlawful day labor agencies, and allowing workers to sue employers for damages.

Developing a statewide data collection system to help centralize and analyze occupational injury and fatality data among Latinos gathered by agencies, community-based organizations, and educational institutions and convene in annual conferences to assess and review data.

Supporting further reforms to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, including 1) establishing a stop-work order when an employer is uninsured; 2) establishing an injured workers’ benefit fund; 3) providing workers’ compensation to agricultural workers; and 4) ensuring adequate workers’ compensation coverage at worksites that use temporary labor.