November 19, 2021

Natalie Patrick-Knox

Victory for the Tito’s Workers! An Eight-Year Fight Ends in a Momentous and Triumphant Win for Immigrant Workers

After an eight-year fight for justice, the primarily immigrant former employees of Tito Contractors finally won a significant victory in a recent National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling over unfair labor practices at Tito. The NLRB’s decision comes nearly a decade after Tito Contractors retaliated against the workers after they sought to force Tito to comply with federal wage-hour laws and attempted to organize a union. 

The Tito’s workers case was about far more than winning a union, higher wages, back pay, or other benefits on the job. It was about the dignity of immigrant workers standing up and fighting an employer who wielded immigration enforcement like a weapon, often threatening to report workers to immigration authorities for their organizing activities. This week’s NLRB ruling brings a conclusion to the near eight-year effort, marked by several additional victories with the NLRB, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). 

The NLRB ruling makes it clear that Tito Contractors was in the wrong and ordered the company to pay nine former employees $250,000 in backpay, expunge records of unlawful discipline and discharges. The company’s owner must issue formal letters of apology to the impacted workers. Additionally, the NLRB also secured a commitment from DHS to protect workers who were victims of substantial abuse on the job. 

Much of this began in 2013 when Tito’s workers started organizing with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) District Council 51 and Tito Contractors responded with fierce retaliation. The company fired workers, denied workers overtime pay they were rightfully owed, and threatened to call immigration authorities on workers and their families. Even after workers won their union election in the face of retaliation and multiple NLRB rulings found Tito Contractors in the wrong, workers were still unable win protections of a union contract and received no restitution for Tito’s heinous actions. 

But the workers persevered and continued their fight for eight long years and now finally have victory in hand.Jobs With Justice started working with the impacted Tito’s workers not long after the initial organizing efforts were met with resistance and retaliation. Our national Protect Our Workers from Exploitation & Retaliation (POWER) campaign was heavily influenced by Tito’s workers adversity. Their courageous fight to seek out remedies from Tito’s helped change the conversation about how we address the exploitation of immigrant workers in the United States.

The NLRB settlement on Tito’s case is only the tip of the iceberg, with a sea change   federal government policy decisions to help bring an end to the abuse faced by workers like those who worked at Tito Contractors. 

As the case unfolded, the NLRB sought special work visas for the workers known as U-visas—visas reserved for those who’ve faced violations of specific federal laws. But backlogs at USCIS left the workers in limbo. Just five months ago, the USCIS office announced its policy shift, granting the stop-gap protections for people waiting on U-visas—including the Tito’s workers. 

Earlier in the fall, the NLRB issued two new policy memos. The first attempts to hold bad bosses accountable for the unlawful treatment of workers and provide more financial relief for those workers impacted by employers’ actions. The second memo promises the NLRB will do more to protect immigrant workers and ensure they can freely exercise their rights under the National Labor Relations Act without retaliation from employers.

Coinciding with those memos, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas released a memo instructing DHS to facilitate the enforcement of labor and employment laws, marking a significant policy shift and one Jobs With Justice and our allies have long fought for. 

After nearly a decade of work, we are finally seeing significant policy shifts that ensure workers—at Tito’s or any other employer—never again have to face the threats, the retaliation, and punishment stemming from efforts to organize for a fair and decent return on their work.We are so excited to celebrate what the Tito’s workers accomplished. Their victory goes far beyond back pay and the freedom to work without fear of harassment from immigration authorities. Their incredible achievement is for the generations of workers to come who can finally earn the benefits they deserve, and when bad bosses or the system fail them, they can take action and win.

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