July 3, 2013

Natalie Patrick-Knox

Federal Workers Strike Highlights Need for Immigrant Worker Protections

Photo by Good Jobs Nation

More than 100 people walked off the job in the nation’s capital yesterday to bring attention to the need for the federal government to ensure its contractors provide overtime, minimum wages, and higher labor standards.

The protests, organized by Good Jobs Nation and supported locally by DC Jobs with Justice,  are designed to keep the pressure on the administration to issue an executive order requiring its contractors pay a living wage and respect workers’ rights to organize a union.

Antonio Vanegas joined the strikers yesterday in solidarity.  Antonio worked at the fast-food restaurant, Quick Pita, in a federally-owned building for more than two years. Antonio reported he was paid significantly below the minimum wage and worked more than 60 hours a week, without overtime. He finally decided to take a stand against the unfair working conditions and joined with other federal workers in a similar strike this past May. As a result, he not only lost his job, he was detained for four days by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Antonio believes he was arrested to be made into an example—and to stop his coworkers from protesting and organizing. While his case is still in process with ICE, Antonio continues to speak out about these injustices.

Antonio’s story isn’t unique. In our current broken immigration system, it’s far too easy for bad employers to use the deportation system as a weapon against employees who dare speak out about abuse on the job. Employers mistreat and underpay immigrant workers because they know they can. The threat of deportation alone can silence workers from blowing the whistle and exercising their labor and civil rights.

This crisis has motivated Jobs with Justice to strongly advocate for workers’ rights protections in the immigration reform debate. We will keep pressing hard to ensure that Congress adopts the protections currently in the Senate bill so immigrant workers can blow the whistle on exploitative employers without fear of retaliation or deportation. Immigration reform is critical to workers like Antonio who explained that “legal status can stop threats and low pay. It will also give us the power to not have to stay silent.”

When immigrant workers have rights and everyone’s competing on a level playing field, we all do better. We need to stand up for workers who have the constant threat of deportation hanging over their heads and who work in unsafe, abusive jobs. By doing so, we stand up for the rights of all workers who are trying to make a decent living for their families.

While the immigration reform debate in Congress is now expected to extend deep into the fall, the administration can act quickly to make a difference for Antonio and millions of low-wage workers. Keep the pressure on by urging ICE to stop deportation proceedings for Antonio and others and follow its own guidelines specifying that immigration proceedings should not be initiated against workers currently in a labor dispute. Click here to tell the Obama administration to use its power to ensure all government contractors pay a living wage and respect their workers’ choice to organize.


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