Emilio Garcia began working for U.S. Fibers in South Carolina in April 2010 as a maintenance worker. He worked 12-hour shifts with only a 30-minute lunch break because his wife and children depend on him. Garcia said that from the very beginning he and other workers were humiliated by management. Conditions were so bad that he and other workers decided to organize themselves with the assistance of the United Steelworkers (USW). But management wasn’t happy with Garcia’s organizing efforts, and they slowly began cutting his hours before firing him in July of this year. Garcia told his story to an audience today at a panel discussion hosted by the AFL-CIO.
The discussion’s main thrust was the need for President Barack Obama to advance the rights of workers by taking executive action on immigration. Emilio said: “I’m here because it is important that while the president considers taking administrative action to protect many of our families from being deported, he also has to consider that we are all workers and will remain as easy prey of exploitative companies if we do not count with any relief.”
Here are 10 ways Obama can take executive action right now to provide relief to workers:
- Extend work authorization to as broad a portion of the undocumented population as possible by providing deferred action to all who would qualify for a pathway to citizenship under the bipartisan Senate bill.
- Design a deferred action program that is broad, clear, not burdensome or costly and doesn’t exclude those who work in part-time or temporary jobs or those who work in the underground economy.
- Discourage employers from firing employees who do the right thing and attempt to rectify their documents and tax records.
- Create a process to protect workers against retaliation because they form or join a union or file a health and safety violation.
- Provide workers timely information about immigration audits to protect employees’ rights on the job.
- Terminate programs that subject workers to inconsistent local enforcement standards rather than uniform federal policies.
- Make sure that immigration-related violations don’t lead to the criminalization of immigrant communities and ensure that individuals receive due process before being removed.
- Instruct immigration enforcement agents to make sure that carrying out their duties doesn’t interfere with workers’ rights in an effort to prevent immigration status from being used as a weapon against workers who are involved in labor disputes.
- Clarify the standards for what constitutes a workplace crime against immigrant employees so they have more protection against unscrupulous employers.
- Engage in more public education promoting naturalization and reduce processing fees and expand fee waivers to ensure that more low-wage workers can access citizenship.
Lorella Praeli of United We Dream (UWD) highlighted the legal significance of executive action:
“In line with many legal scholars, UWD fully believes that the President has the constitutional and legal authority to defer action on individual cases and confer employment authorization to millions on the grounds of prosecutorial discretion. The President has a historic opportunity to show courage where Republicans showed cowardice by starting the process that only Congress can finish.”
Nadia Marin-Molina, the National Workers’ Rights coordinator for National Day Laborer Organizing Network, added:
“For administrative relief to be effective, it must take the weapon of intimidation away from unscrupulous employers who have used the threat of unchecked deportations to silence workers and lower standards. Workers who build our cities should not fear being deported from them.”
This blog appeared in AFL-CIO on August 26, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Political-Action-Legislation/10-Ways-President-Obama-Can-Take-Executive-Action-on-Immigration-that-Protects-Workers-Rights-Now.
About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars. Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History. His writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.