Lawmakers ignore state’s lead role in immigrant intimidation

by CalWatchdog Staff | March 7, 2013 12:01 pm

Agricultural worker, BLS handbook[1]March 7, 2013

By Katy Grimes

SACRAMENTO — At a Capitol hearing Wednesday, Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina, charged that California employers frequently threaten immigrant workers with deportation and abuse.

The Assembly Labor and Employment Committee hearing took place after a press conference and announcement of a new bill by Hernandez, AB 263[2]. The bill will include stiff new labor laws aimed at abusive employers who retaliate against undocumented workers by calling the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency federal agents to arrest the undocumented workers.

The “abuse and exploitation” is made worse by “the added injustice of intimidation based on immigration status,” Hernandez said. “I, for one, am not content to stand by and wait for the federal government to do its job.”

State’s role not covered

But what wasn’t covered at the hearing is the lead role the state of California itself takes in controlling the lives of undocumented day laborers. California law allows state-licensed farm labor contractors total control over the wages and pay, and even transportation and housing of documented and undocumented agricultural workers.

Will the state of California and lawmakers go after their own flawed policies and laws? It appears that, while lawmakers and special-interest groups blame unscrupulous employers, it is the lawmakers themselves who have facilitated the biggest illegal immigration racket in the country, and hijacked the process in the path to citizenship by undocumented immigrants.

The incomplete hearing

The hearing centered around the question, “Is California doing enough to protect immigrant workers from retaliation and other abuses?”

The bulk of the hearing was devoted to testimony about extreme employer retaliation against undocumented workers. The National Employment Law Project[3], a nonprofit group based in Washington, D.C. and Oakland, Calif., whose partners include “worker centers and unions, immigrant rights groups, progressive lawyers, and community organizations,” led the hearing.

“Employers and their agents have far too frequently shown that they will use immigration status as a tool against labor organizing campaigns and worker claims,” said the executive summary of a new report [4]just published by the group.

“Our model is to develop and test new policies at the state and local level, then scale them up to spur change at the national level,” the project said on its website[5]. “We partner with strong advocacy networks, grounded in the full range of stakeholders — grassroots groups and national organizations, worker centers and unions, policymakers and think tanks.”

The group claims:

“Globalization has combined with domestic policy choices to yield an economy that creates too many low-wage jobs and not nearly enough good ones. Lax enforcement of workers’ rights, increased subcontracting and misclassification of employees as independent contractors, and failed immigration policies have heightened insecurity for all workers. Inequality has grown to historic levels, the middle class is imperiled, and many fear our best days are behind us.”

The report found[6] the weak labor market, with high unemployment, gives employers a tremendous advantage over people vying for scarce jobs. “This imbalance gives employers great power to set the terms and conditions of employment and to violate workers’ rights without fear of consequences.”

But several of the hearing speakers admitted that California already has labor laws in place to remedy these injustices. The laws just aren’t enforced.

Extreme cases

Betty Hung of the Asian Pacific Legal Center, named as a source in the report, recounted the 2012 story of a Thai immigrant working as a restaurant delivery driver. He worked 11-hour days, five days a week, for a flat daily rate of $60. The driver finally reported to labor officials that he did not receive overtime pay, or any breaks during his workday.

Hung said the U.S. Labor Department ordered the driver’s employer to pay $23,000 in hourly wages and mileage expenses. But, in a retaliatory move, the employer then told the delivery driver he had to repay the money, and threatened to have him deported.

Similar stories were heard throughout the hearing.

The right to work under a contract

Hernandez and Democratic legislators called for Congress and President Barack Obama to pass a comprehensive immigration reform package, including a path toward citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

Together with Hernandez’s legislation, the apparent goal is to be the first state in the country with the toughest laws aimed directly at employers.

“My children have a better life than my father had,” Ashley Alvarado told the committee. She is the president of the Teamsters Cannery Council, located in Visalia, Calif. “Everybody has the right to this, and to work under a contract.”

Alvarado named the Marquez Brothers[7] as employers who regularly retaliate against undocumented immigrant workers. “It’s why the Marquez Brothers send their lawyers,” she said, as she gestured to the back of the hearing room. “I command you to stand up to the Marquez Brothers tortilla factory, which hides incentives, and doesn’t pay taxes. They are cheating us from much needed revenue, and getting rich by cheating our government,” Alvarado said. “Workers should not have to live in fear.”

Her command was echoed by Hung. “You can make history,” Hung told the committee. “Your leadership can set the tone for Congress.”

State licenses

But according to a source I spoke with who worked as an agriculture day laborer at age 13, the real abuse, cheating and threats come from the farm-labor contractors[8].

Ironically, it’s the state of California which licenses farm labor contractors[9], allowing them complete control over the lives of the day laborers and undocumented workers.

According to the California Department of Industrial Relations Labor Code section 1682(b)[10]:

“Farm labor contractor” designates any person who, for a fee, employs workers to render personal services in connection with the production of any farm products to, for, or under the direction of a third person, or who recruits, solicits, supplies, or hires workers on behalf of an employer engaged in the growing or producing of farm products, and who, for a fee, provides in connection therewith one or more of the following services: furnishes board, lodging, or transportation for those workers; supervises, times, checks, counts, weighs, or otherwise directs or measures their work; or disburses wage payments to these persons.”

The state knowingly allows licensed farm labor contractors access to day laborer’s wages, housing and transportation, giving the labor contractors unbridled control over the vulnerable population of undocumented immigrants.

Federal government

Each of the speakers at the hearing said the federal government’s E-Verify system[11] is used by employers to retaliate against undocumented workers. “U.S. law requires companies to employ only individuals who may legally work in the United States — either U.S. citizens, or foreign citizens who have the necessary authorization,” the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency says on its website[12]. “E-Verify is an Internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States.”

U.S. employers are placed in a precarious position of being either legally required to hire only authorized, documented workers or end up being accused of using the verification system as a retaliatory measure.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement[13] tries to stay out of these matters, spokeswoman Virginia Kice explained. It is standard practice for federal immigration officers to avoid getting involved in employer-employee labor issues.

The National Employment Law Project says employer abuses could be remedied in a number of ways, at least in California, including:

* An enhanced ability of state labor law agencies, including the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, to respond to charges of retaliation and to protect immigrant victims of workplace crime, from removal and deportation;

* A strengthened firewall between immigration enforcement, local law enforcement agencies and state labor law enforcement; and

* Added resources for more robust enforcement of core labor laws in low-wage industries.

  1. [Image]:
  2. AB 263:
  3. The National Employment Law Project:
  4. new report :
  5. website:
  6. The report found:
  7. Marquez Brothers:
  8. farm-labor contractors:
  9. farm labor contractors:
  10. Labor Code section 1682(b):
  11. E-Verify system:
  12. on its website:
  13. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement:

Source URL: