Interfaith Worker Justice

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Lawyers: ICE detainee with brain tumor removed from hospital

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From The Hill:

by Rafael Bernal

An undocumented immigrant diagnosed with a brain tumor while under Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody was returned to a detention center from a Texas hospital, her lawyers said.

The woman, a Salvadoran national identified only as Sara, was released from Huguley Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, and taken to Prairieland Detention Center against her will, according to her lawyers.

"She told us they tied her hands and ankles in her condition," Melissa Zuniga, a member of Sara's legal team, told The Hill. "She's complaining of a lot of pain."

Zuniga said Sara, 26, was cut off from communication with her family and lawyers, even after the hospital and ICE had cleared Sara's mother for unrestricted phone access.

"Requests by family members to visit detainees who have been hospitalized are permitted but must be approved in advance with ICE and the appropriate consulate. ICE reached out to the family to explain the process," said Gillian Christensen, an ICE spokeswoman.

Zuniga also said the Salvadoran consulate had been unresponsive, and a team of volunteers was heading to the detention center to demand Sara's immediate release.

Sara's exact condition wasn't immediately available, but according to previous reports she was transferred from Prairieland to Huguley after complaining of severe headaches and collapsing on Feb. 10.

Doctors at the hospital diagnosed Sara with a tumor and told the Daily Beast they would soon perform surgery.

Zuniga said Sara complained of profuse nosebleeds and of long-term memory loss, while not receiving treatment at the hospital.

"Huguley no longer wants to be in charge of her case because they’re getting hounded by calls and a potential lawsuit," said Zuniga.

Sara's family is threatening to sue the hospital because they claim her condition deteriorated in the 12 days she spent there.

Sara's sister and legal team, all based in New Jersey, were flying to Texas Wednesday night to make the case for her release.

Sara told Zuniga she was given a CD with her medical records at the hospital, and instructed by doctors not to turn them over to ICE. The CD was taken from Sara upon her return to the detention center, Zuniga said.

In the first month of the Trump administration, several cases of immigration detention have drawn national attention, as pro-immigration activists decry what they consider heavy-handed tactics by immigration enforcement agents.

Read more from The Hill.

Employees Across U.S. Fired After Joining 'Day Without Immigrants' Protest

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A day without immigrants, May 1, 2006.

From NBC News:

By Avalon Zoppo

More than 100 protesters across the country were fired from their jobs after skipping work to take part in last week's "Day Without Immigrants" demonstration.

Restaurants and day cares were among the businesses in states like Florida, Tennessee, Oklahoma and New York where bosses fired workers after they didn't show up for work in order to protest.

In Nolensville, Tennessee, nearly 20 employees at Bradley Coatings, Incorporated — a commercial painting company — were laid off after participating in the nationwide strike on Thursday, NBC4 reported.

The company's attorney, Robert Peal, said in a statement obtained by the news station that all employees were told they risked termination if they skipped work on Thursday, but 18 did so anyway.

The attorney wrote: "Regretfully, and consistent with its prior communication to all its employees, BCI had no choice but to terminate these individuals. The reason these employees missed work — to engage in peaceful demonstrations — had nothing to do with BCI's decision to terminate them."

That same day in Florida, several staff members at Grace Community School in Bonita Springs told NBC2 they planned participate in Thursday's protest. Two employees claimed they were fired as a result, though the head of the school insists no one was terminated.

Asked by a reporter why the cause was important, Brenda Botello, who quit on Friday because she was afraid of being fired, said: "Because we are Mexicans... We need to find another job."

At Ben's Kosher Delicatessen Restaurant & Caterers in Long Island, New York, 25 workers were fired Friday when they returned to work, according to Telemundo 47. Police escorted the workers from the restaurant — most of whom were undocumented and have worked there for years.

Some social media users are calling on others to boycott the small businesses and restaurants that fired immigrant workers.

Local news outlets also reported that 21 employees were fired at a boat manufacturing company in South Carolina, 12 workers at an Oklahoma restaurant and 30 masonry workers in Denver. The Oklahoma restaurant I Don't Care Bar and Grill has already published a job posting looking to replace the fired cooks, NBC12 reported.

Last week's nationwide "Day Without Immigrants" protests were aimed at showcasing the impact immigrants have on the U.S. economy.

Read more from NBC News.

Bank Workers Will Protest to Form Their First US Union — and the Whole World Is Watching

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Photo of the exterior of the Santander bank branch at Piccadilly Gardens. Santander is also one of the banks caught up in the PPI mis-selling scandal.

Money Bright/Flickr

From Policy.Mic:

By Jack Smith IV

Behind the pristine business attire and impeccable offices, banks in the United States have a secret: Their public faces — tellers and salespeople — are harried working-class people. These bank employees don wide smiles and deliver well-rehearsed pitches in their daily dealings with customers, but they earn low wages, face job instability and contend with demands that make them choose between ethical practices and keeping their jobs.

Now, bank tellers in the United States will ask for the same protections enjoyed by workers across the world: a union — and they're fighting not only to take care of themselves, but also to take care of their customers.

On Tuesday, over 15,000 U.S. bank workers with the Spain-based bank Santander will declare their intent to establish this country's first bank workers' union. They'll deliver petitions, take over corporate lobbies and begin the long struggle to bring collective bargaining to an industry with predatory practices and lots of low-wage workers. And across the world, in European and South American countries with strong banking unions, hundreds of thousands of bank employees are expected to demonstrate in solidarity.

"In every other developed economy in the world, bank worker unions are the backbone of the labor movement," Teresa Casertano, the global campaigns manager for the Committee for Better Banks, which was instrumental in developing the union effort, said in an interview. "They're strong unions with highest union density, and they usual have broad sectoral bargaining so that every bank worker is covered."

The U.S. bank workers have three demands. The first is greater wages and greater share of the profits, and the second is stable, full-time jobs. Crisp uniforms and polished storefronts aside, bank tellers are solidly low-wage employees — and wages have only taken a downturn over the past decade; as of May 2015, the median annual wage for a bank teller was $26,410.

The third demand isn't just about protecting workers or shoring up their jobs — it's about stopping predatory banking practices that pit bank workers against their own communities.

When it comes to consumer banking's more devious practices, like hawking off high-interest loans or subprime auto loans, it's the salespeople and tellers who end up convincing hapless customers to sign on. The pressure on bank salespeople comes in the form of overbearing quotas and benchmarks that they have to meet for fear of losing their jobs. Santander workers wishing to remain anonymous told Mic that this can even mean hourly quotas that don't give salespeople adequate time to explain the fundamental terms of the loans. The victims are often people of color and neighbors in their communities.

So that third demand for the bank workers is an end to the overbearing quotas that perpetuate these exploitative tactics.

"These workers are caught between doing what's good for the customers and being able to provide for their families," said Arnise Porter, an organizer with the Communications Workers of America.

Porter has spent the past year working with Santander Consumer USA workers in Dallas, where many of the subprime auto loans are sold. Workers tell Porter that the office has a nepotism problem, with family members being hired or promoted over the qualified or experienced. On Tuesday, she'll join a group of nearly 50 Santander employees in a lobby takeover of the Santander Consumer USA offices.

The Dallas contingent will also deliver so-called neutrality letters asking the bank to respect a fair election for union formation, as delegations of bank workers in New York City and Boston deliver signed petitions making their demands.

The American banker workers won't be alone in their demonstrations.

In other countries like Brazil, banker worker unions are a staple of collective bargaining power and the labor movement. Contraf-Cut, the Brazilian bank workers union that has gone on strike every year since 2004, ended their longest strike ever — of 31 days — in October, winning an annual 8% wage increase and raises in food and childcare allowances.

And so, the low-wage bank workers of the world will stand in solidarity with Santander employees as they begin their fight Tuesday. In Brazil, over 130,000 bank employees will open their bank branches an hour late, spending that time briefing the nation's bank workers on the American initiative while a rally is held at Santander's corporate headquarters in Brazil.

In Argentina, there will be rolling strikes throughout the banking sector, where different banks will close for a day throughout the week — they'll present similar demands as American workers, and hold marches and rallies. In Italy, Portugal, Spain and Germany, delegations of Santander bank workers will deliver letters of support to European banking officials.

The international support isn't just symbolic. The CBB initially kicked off the union drive at the urging of organizers in São Paulo and other foreign banking unions like UNI Global. The logic is that when international banks are introduced to the U.S. labor force — where labor has been systematically weakened — they want to spread those practices to workers in other countries where those banks do business, the CBB's Casertano said.

Read more from Policy.Mic.

House Panel OKs Making Wage-Theft Findings Open To Public

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Striking Philadelphia Restaurant Workers Win Back Wages from Sushi Restaurant.

From CBS Denver:

By James Anderson

DENVER (AP) — For about a century, any finding by Colorado labor officials that an employer cheated his or her workers on wages has been considered a trade secret that’s off-limits to the public.

That may change this year after a House panel unanimously approved a bill Thursday to include those findings under Colorado’s Open Records Act.

Sponsored by Democratic Rep. Jesse Danielson, the bill would allow citizens to know if they are patronizing or considering employment with an offender — and level the playing field for the vast majority of employers who abide by wage, overtime and other pay laws or contracts.

It would make that information subject to records requests after an employer has exhausted all appeals.

“Most companies across the state of Colorado value their workers,” Danielson told the House Judiciary Committee. “However, in some cases wage theft does occur. Employees are asked to work off the clock, or don’t get overtime pay.”

In 2016, there were 274 wage claim violations, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. Because those cases are kept secret under state law, “these bad actors are shielded and are less likely to value their employees,” Danielson said.

A similar bill failed last year in the Republican-led Senate.

Since then, Danielson worked with the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, the Plaintiff Employment Lawyers Association and other groups to specify that only final determinations of a wage violation — after appeals — would be subject to open records requests.

Patrick Teagarden, director of policy and legislation for the Department of Labor and Employment, called it “a common sense application of open records.”

Read more from CBS Denver.

N.J. Company Named Among Worst for Wage Theft Fined $3.2 Million

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2 men on construction site during daytime.


By Paul Milo 

NEW YORK-- The New York City Comptroller levied a huge fine on a Parsippany company that cheated dozens of workers, mostly immigrant laborers, out of millions of dollars in wages for work on city projects.

K.S. Contracting, owned by Paresh Shah, was ordered to pay $3.2 million and will also be barred from receiving state contracts for five years.  

In its statement the comptroller's office did not identify the headquarters of Shah's company, but an Internet search turned up multiple Parsippany addresses for the business. State records tie Shah to at least one of those addresses, The Daily Record reported.

The company, named in  2015 as one of the worst wage theft violators in the city by the Center for Popular Democracy, was awarded more than $21 million in contracts between 2007 and 2010.  

K.S. Contracting came under investigation in May 2010, when an employee filed a complaint. An investigation over the next several years uncovered a kickback scheme targeting immigrant employees, Comptroller Scott M. Stringer said.

Following a four-day administrative trial in May 2016, Stringer's office learned that checks were regularly issued to just half the workforce, which was ordered to cash them and return the money to supervisors. The cash was then given to all the workers at a rate significantly below the prevailing wage.

At least 36 workers were cheated out of $1.7 million in wages between 2008 and 2011, with some workers who were to be paid a combined wage and benefits package of $50 an hour receiving just $90 a day in cash. Most of the victims were workers of Latino, West Indian or South Asian descent, Stringer said.

Read more from

This McDonald’s Cook Helped Raise The Minimum Wage. Now He Wonders if Trump Will Lower It.

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n April 14, fast food workers around the USA walked out on strike. Protesters gathered outside the McDonald's restaurant at Lake Street and 3rd Avenue in Minneapolis. They called for a $15 per hour minimum wage, paid sick days, and union rights. Within the last year, the cities of Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York have raised the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

From The Huffington Post:

By Dave Jamieson

WASHINGTON ― The first time Luis Chiliquinga went on strike, he joined fellow fast-food workers and marched into his McDonald’s inside the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. He wasn’t satisfied with his $8.25-per-hour wage, and he was tired of burning his hands on hot grease. As the strikers chanted, Chiliquinga walked right up to his manager and held up a protest sign.

“I wasn’t scared,” Chiliquinga says of that first walkout, in 2013. If anyone seemed nervous, the 67-year-old says with a smile, it was management: “They were scared.”

Chiliquinga has taken part in more than a dozen strikes and protests since then, all of them pillorying federal contractors for paying low wages and opposing unionization among their workers. The rabble-rousing has led to concrete gains. Chiliquinga now earns $12.77 per hour and gets paid time off. He doesn’t believe he’d have either if not for the pressure fast-food workers like himself brought to bear on employers and politicians.

Yet Chiliquinga and his striking colleagues accomplished much more than that. They helped shape federal policy in a way that affects hundreds of thousands of other workers. Several of President Barack Obama’s executive orders may not have been issued at all if not for the courage of low-wage contract workers in Washington. Chiliquinga should know: He was invited to stand at Obama’s side in the White House when one of them was signed.

Under President Donald Trump, those gains may not be permanent. While on the campaign trail, Trump promised to unwind Obama’s executive orders, and he has already started to make good on that pledge. Chiliquinga wonders if some of the progress he and his co-workers made could be vacated with the stroke of a pen ― even though Trump vowed to bring back good jobs and raise wages for struggling workers like him.

“We fought very hard,” says Chiliquinga, a father of three. “We expect a living wage, not a minimum wage. It’s dignity. That’s why we pursued it.”

Chiliquinga, who immigrated from Ecuador in 1996, lives in a group house with family in suburban Maryland, about 40 miles from the Air and Space Museum. The commute alone costs him more than an hour’s pay each day. In 2013, he joined a new, union-backed worker group called Good Jobs Nation, made up of D.C.-area fast food workers, janitors and cooks, all of them employed on federal properties. They wanted to call attention to the fact that the federal government underwrites a lot of poverty jobs.

If the labor of people like Chiliquinga is funded by taxpayers, they argued, then their employers should be held to a higher standard. They called upon the Obama administration to use the federal government’s contracting power to improve pay and working conditions on federal properties around the country.

The workers found allies in prominent liberal members of Congress, like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.). They held rallies, filed complaints against their employers, and appealed directly to the White House.

Soon, the president got the message.

In 2014, Obama announced that he would set a minimum wage of $10.10 for all workers employed under federal contracts, including people in fast-food joints at government buildings. Democrats wanted to set a nationwide minimum wage at the same level, but Republicans would not give that proposal a vote. Through his executive order, Obama made sure at least some workers would be paid a higher wage.

A few months later, the Obama administration issued another executive order, this one creating a new rule punishing contractors with a history of labor law violations. The rule was crafted with input from Chiliquinga’s group. If a firm had a record of ripping off workers or putting them in danger, then the rule would make it harder for them to secure contracts with the government. The idea was to encourage contractors to treat their workers decently if they want to benefit from taxpayer money.

Then Obama signed a third executive order related to federal contracts, this one guaranteeing paid sick days for workers. Democrats sought a nationwide paid leave law, but Republicans blocked that proposal just like the minimum wage. The White House estimated the executive order would bring roughly 300,000 workers up to seven sick days per year.

Taken together, the executive actions represent a stunning success for the workers’ campaign. Powerful labor groups like the Service Employees International Union lobbied the White House for the reforms, but it was people like Chiliquinga walking off the job that created the public pressure for them. Just as the broader Fight for $15 spurred minimum-wage hikes coast to coast, it was the sight of federal contract workers taking to the streets that gave Obama the mandate to take unilateral action.

“It was a consequence of our struggle. If we don’t do strikes, that might never happen,” Chiliquinga explains. “The government needs pressure. They are always under the pressure of the companies. If workers don’t make pressure, then they don’t move.”

Already, some of that success has started to unravel since Obama left office. Earlier this month, House Republicans used an arcane procedural maneuver in an effort to undo the new rule barring companies that had committed wage theft from getting new contracts. Chiliquinga and his colleagues showed up at the Capitol to protest the vote, chasing after Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) in an effort to confront her over gutting the new worker protections. 

If the Senate follows suit, the Labor Department will be forbidden from moving forward with Obama’s executive order, known as the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule. (It is already tied up in court, blocked by a temporary injunction.) By using the Congressional Review Act to kill it, Republicans would assure that the same rule cannot be revived in the future.

Trump could reverse the minimum-wage and paid-leave measures, too, by writing his own executive orders vacating them. But doing so may not be worth the political costs. The minimum wage for contractors has become less relevant as more states and the District of Columbia raise their own minimum wages. Meanwhile, Americans overwhelmingly like the idea of hiking the wage floor and requiring employers to provide paid leave. If Trump wanted to abolish Obama’s rules and lower the minimum wage for cont, he would be taking positions out of step with most voters.

Read more from The Huffington Post.

Wrangling continues on raising New Mexico minimum wage

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REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

From The New Mexican:

by Andrew Oxford

A proposal to raise New Mexico’s minimum wage drew opposition from business organizations and workers rights groups alike on Monday.

Co-sponsored by House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, House Bill 442 would appear to be a compromise that boosts the statewide minimum hourly wage to $9.25 from $7.50, less of an increase than some Democrats have proposed.

But a section of the bill that would strip local governments of the power to adopt certain labor regulations, such as the Work Week Act previously proposed in Albuquerque, drew sharp criticism from workers rights advocates.

And business groups as well as some Republicans argued that $9.25-an-hour would still be too high. The bill would also raise the hourly minimum wage for tipped employees such as waitresses to $3.70 from $2.13.

Disagreements surrounding the bill demonstrated the messy process of making good on what was a major part of the Democrats’ political agenda in last year’s elections but also seemed to help the prospects of a compromise bill emerging from the 60-day session.

The House Labor and Economic Development Committee voted 6-5 along party lines to advance the bill, sending it to the House Judiciary Committee.

Some Democrats on the committee expressed reservations, however, about the section that would prohibit cities, towns and counties from regulating how businesses schedule employees.

The section could stop local governments from adopting policies that would curb flexible scheduling by employers, a practice workers rights advocates argue leaves low-wage laborers with uncertainty about the number of hours they might work in a week.

“How do you make and keep to a family budget when you don’t know how many hours you will work?” Holly Beaumont, director of Interfaith Worker Justice New Mexico, asked the committee.

And some lawmakers raised concerns that the section would block local governments from requiring businesses to provide paid sick leave for employees.

Members of the Albuquerque city council have proposed such ordinances in the past and similar policies have become major causes for workers rights groups around the country that see local governments as holding the best hope for improving the pay and benefits of low-wage laborers.

Chairman Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, warned Democrats on the committee against opposing an increase in the minimum wage, even if it is through a bill that workers rights groups consider less than ideal.

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” McCamley said. “To not give a 23 percent increase to our lowest paid employees would be tragic.”

Raising the minimum wage was a central campaign theme for Democratic candidates for the Legislature last year and this is just one of several such bills wending through the Legislature during this 60-day session. On the lower end, Senate Bill 321 would raise the statewide minimum wage to $9 per hour but would allow employers to pay staff in training $8 per hour for up to 60 days from the date they are hired. On the high end, House Bill 27, would hike the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Read more from The New Mexican.

Pope Francis to activists: Stand with migrants, do not deny climate science, there is no such thing as ‘Islamic terrorism’

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L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP

From America Magazine:

by Michael O'Loughlin

In a letter written to a leaders of grassroots organizations and social movements meeting this week in California, Pope Francis said Christians must resist the temptation to demonize others, protect the earth and fight against “the invisible tyranny of money that only guarantees the privileges of a few.”

Writing that the world is in the midst of an “historic turning point,” Francis said the “worsening crisis” presents both danger and opportunity, using language sure to recall tensions between some Catholic leaders and the fledgling Trump administration.

“The grave danger is to disown our neighbors. When we do so, we deny their humanity and our own humanity without realizing it; we deny ourselves, and we deny the most important Commandments of Jesus,” Francis wrote in the letter, which was dated Feb. 10 and published in Spanish.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Vatican’s department for Integral Human Development, read the pope’s letter on Feb. 16 to participants at the opening of the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements meeting in Modesto, a new event based on similar international meetings previously held in Rome and in Bolivia. The California gathering includes participants from a dozen countries.

“I know that you have committed yourselves to fight for social justice, to defend our Sister Mother Earth and to stand alongside migrants. I want to reaffirm your choice,” the pope’s letter read.

In his letter, Francis condemned what he dubbed a global “hypocritical attitude” toward suffering and he called for more action to address a range of social ills.

“Sooner or later, the moral blindness of this indifference comes to light, like when a mirage dissipates,” he wrote. “The wounds are there, they are a reality. The unemployment is real, the violence is real, the corruption is real, the identity crisis is real, the gutting of democracies is real.”

Francis condemned leaders who rely on “fear, insecurity, quarrels, and even people’s justified indignation, in order to shift the responsibility for all these ills onto a ‘non-neighbor.’”

Though he wrote in the letter that he was not speaking about any particular leaders but of “a social and political process that flourishes in many parts of the world” that “poses a grave danger for humanity,” the letter, delivered in a border state with a large Hispanic population, is sure to suggest tensions between church leaders and U.S. President Donald J. Trump.

Last year, the pope said political leaders who propose building border walls were not Christian, a statement interpreted by the Trump campaign as a slight against the candidate.

More recently, Catholic bishops in the United States have condemned several executive orders signed by Mr. Trump placing restrictions on immigration and refugee resettlement, including an executive order to move forward with plans to build a border wall.

Rather than looking to political leaders as models to solve the world’s various crises, the pope said in his letter that “Jesus teaches us a different path.”

“Do not classify others in order to see who is a neighbor and who is not,” he wrote. “You can become neighbor to whomever you meet in need, and you will do so if you have compassion in your heart.”

Francis also repeated his warning against describing terrorism as Islamic, another major theme of Mr. Trump’s campaign.

“Christian terrorism does not exist, Jewish terrorism does not exist, and Muslim terrorism does not exist. They do not exist,” Francis wrote.

“There are fundamentalist and violent individuals in all peoples and religions—and with intolerant generalizations they become stronger because they feed on hate and xenophobia,” he continued.

Mr. Trump repeatedly criticized his predecessor for refusing to label acts of terror committed by Muslims “radical Islamic terrorism,” a phrase he has used often since his election.

“By confronting terror with love, we work for peace,” the pope wrote.

Read more from America Magazine.

Workers, Businesses Back Proposal to Stop Wage Theft

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Photo by Michael Moore, Union Advocate

From Portside:

by Barb Kucera

Workers and communities suffer – and businesses face unfair competition – when companies cheat their employees through wage theft, advocates said Wednesday at the state Capitol. They called on the Legislature to pass measures that would strengthen enforcement against this widespread problem.

“If you work for a living, you should get paid!” said Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul, one of the authors of the anti-wage theft legislation. Several legislators, Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith and state Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Ken Peterson listened as workers described how their paychecks have been stolen by unscrupulous employers.

One of the most egregious current examples is Lakeville Motor Express, a trucking company that allegedly changed its name and location to avoid paying thousands of dollars to its employees. The workers’ union, Teamsters Local 120, is leading an effort to recoup what was lost.

"We are union strong and we are here to fight for our rights!" said Samuel Nunn, one of the 95 affected workers.

The Department of Labor and Industry has filed suit against Lakeville Motor Express for more than a half million dollars in unpaid wages. But the department lacks the resources to investigate half of the complaints it receives, Commissioner Peterson said.

An investigation by Workday Minnesota has found wage theft in Minnesota is larger and more widespread than most people realize – and the problem is growing. The department estimates that 39,000 Minnesota workers suffer from wage theft each year, resulting in $11.9 million in wages owed, and that's only what goes reported. Wage theft occurs when:

  • Employers refuse to pay their employees for work performed
  • Employers violate minimum wage, prevailing wage, and overtime protections
  • Employers make unlawful paycheck deductions
  • Employers coerce employees to work off the clock
  • Employers misclassify employees as an independent contractors to avoid paying workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance

Businesses that follow the law face unfair competition from those that are cheating, said Shawn Larson of RTL Construction in Shakopee.

“They skirt laws in order to improve their bottom line,” Larson said. “It’s obviously bad for workers but it’s also bad for businesses and it’s bad for the state of Minnesota.”

The Wage Theft Initiative proposes policy changes to give the Department of Labor and Industry more enforcement tools and an increased budget to hire four additional wage and hour investigators to do proactive outreach across the state. It would empower workers with more information and impose stiffer penalties for violators.

“I had to live out of my car and then a friend’s house for several weeks because of the wage theft and the problems it created for me,” said Gloria Rojo, a janitor who experienced wage theft while cleaning car dealerships and other buildings for a subcontractor of ROC Commercial Cleaning. Since then, she has become a leader in CTUL, a Minneapolis-based worker center that is challenging wage theft.

Read more from Portside.

U.S. accelerates deportation of Haitian migrants

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From The Arizona Republic:

by Daniel Gonzalez

A detention officer handed Lemoine Denera a cardboard lunch tray. The 32-year-old migrant from Haiti took a look at the food and slid the tray away.

He hasn't felt like eating since being locked up in a federal immigration detention center in the desert near Eloy, an hour's drive south of Phoenix.

Because of his stomach problems, medical staff have placed him on a low-sodium, low-fat, high-fiber diet, which Denera finds unappetizing. That day he was served a slice of ham and American cheese between a hamburger bun, along with green beans, apple sauce and coleslaw. 

He also suffers from a hernia, hypertension and a faulty heart valve. But he said the main reason he's not hungry is because his detention by federal immigration authorities has separated him from his wife and infant daughter.

The family of three arrived together at the Nogales border crossing in December after traveling through Mexico seeking refuge in the U.S. They are part of a surge of Haitian migrants arriving at ports along the southern border after fleeing from Haiti to Brazil following the 2010 Haitian earthquake. After four days, his wife and daughter were released; Denera, meanwhile, was transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody and locked up.

His wife and daughter are now living with an aunt in the New York City area. It has been more than two months since he has seen them. Their only communication is by phone once or twice a week.

"I am suffering. I miss them," Denera said, during a recent interview conducted in a conference room at the Eloy Detention Center. "Sometimes I try to talk, but when I hear my daughter crying, it’s not easy for me."

Denera is one of about 4,000 Haitian migrants being held in immigration detention centers in Arizona and other states. Now he faces being quickly deported back to Haiti, while his wife and daughter remain in the U.S.

While the majority of Haitian migrants who have arrived along the southern border are men, there are many cases like Denera's involving families that have been separated, said Guerline Josef, director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance in San Diego, an advocacy group.

"That is one of the main issues that we are having is the fact that a lot of the women and children that were released, their husbands and fathers were sent home or are still in detention," she said. "So basically the family units are being broken, so it becomes really hard for them to survive. They don’t have that partner with them. They don’t have the father to help out."

The possibility Denera will be deported is real.

Since November, the number of people deported to Haiti has risen rapidly, according to ICE data. The deportations reversed a longstanding policy of not sending Haitians without permission to be in the U.S., except criminals, back to Haiti while the country is still recovering from the devastating 2010 earthquake.

The deportations resumed under former President Barack Obama's administration. But immigrant advocates are concerned they will increase even more rapidly under President Donald Trump's new executive orders on immigration, which call for expanding priorities for who can be detained and deported.

Through the end of January, ICE had deported 2,186 people to Haiti, according to data provided by ICE to The Arizona Republic. The number includes 204 individuals with criminal records, ICE said, or about 9 percent of the total.

In comparison, ICE deported 310 individuals to Haiti in all of fiscal year 2016, which ended on Sept. 30. The vast majority of the 2016 deportees, 267, were people with criminal records, or about 86 percent of the total.

The deportations to Haiti have alarmed immigrant rights advocates. They fear Haitians are being sent back to one of the most impoverished countries in the Western Hemisphere at a time when Haiti is still recovering from a string of calamities, and in the process separating families such as Denera's. In addition to the 2010 earthquake, Haiti was struck by a major hurricane in October. The country is also struggling to control an ongoing cholera outbreak that has killed more than 10,000 people.

"It's obscene," said Steven Forester, the Miami-based immigration policy coordinator at the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, an advocacy group.

"The reason it’s obscene is that Hurricane Matthew just devastated a large part of Haiti," Forester said, pointing out that Haiti was "already suffering" from the after-effects of the earthquake, and the cholera epidemic when Hurricane Matthew hit. The destruction is "as if a quarter of the United States had been leveled. It’s not safe to deport anyone to Haiti and it hasn’t been."

What's more, Forester said, many Creole-speaking Haitians currently being detained may qualify for asylum in the U.S. because of ongoing political turmoil in Haiti. But many of the detained Haitians may be unaware of their rights or have difficulty communicating their fear of persecution because of a lack of Creole-speaking interpreters and legal counsel in detention centers, he said.

"There has been a lot of repression and persecution in Haiti which caused many people to flee. The rule of law in Haiti is extremely weak," Forester said.

In December, the Catholic Legal Services of the Archdiocese of Miami dispatched two Creole-speaking attorneys to the federal detention centers in Eloy and Florence, said Randolph McGorty, the group's executive director.

The two lawyers held meetings over a week with about 400 Haitian detainees to inform them of their rights and determine if they might qualify for asylum, McGorty said.

To qualify, asylum seekers must first pass a hearing with an asylum officer who determines whether they have a "credible" fear of persecution if returned to their home country.

While a Creole-speaking interpreter is provided by phone for the hearings, migrants may be unaware of the process for requesting a hearing because of language barriers, he said.

"This is a very unsophisticated group," McGorty said.

Deportations under Obama administration

When the U.S. suspended deportations to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, officials were concerned sending the immigrants back would put their lives at risk and could further destabilize the country.

But in September, the Obama administration announced the government would resume deportations in response to a sudden surge of Haitian migrants arriving at border crossings in Tijuana and other cities along the southern border, including Nogales, seeking refuge in the U.S.

A total of 6,426 Haitian migrants arrived at ports along the southern border in fiscal year 2016, according to Customs and Border Protection data. Another 7,129 have arrived since the start of fiscal year 2017 on Oct. 1, according to CBP.

Before the U.S. resumed deportations, a majority of Haitian migrants were detained for several days and then allowed to stay in the U.S. on what is called humanitarian parole pending the outcome of their immigration cases, said McGorty.

The Obama administration suspended the deportations again in October after Hurricane Matthew slammed into Haiti, causing more devastation. But in November, the Obama administration announced that deportations to Haiti had resumed once again, despite the country's ongoing recovering from the hurricane, the cholera outbreak and the 2010 earthquake.

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