Beth Myers, STITCH
One of the biggest misperceptions about immigrant workers who are working with out legal documentation is that they have no right to complain about being mistreated or underpaid. And that they are not protected on the job. U.S. labor laws actually apply to all workers, no matter their immigration status. The Associated Press reports today workers at the New Bedford, RI leather plant, which was raided in March of 2007, will finally receive justice—and the back wages that they earned.
Michael Bianco Inc. will pay more than $600,000 to 764 former employees for unpaid wages and overtime to settle the lawsuit filed in May 2007. The remaining money will go for such things as legal fees and contributions to community groups that work with immigrants.
"This agreement should send a message to other companies that they have to follow labor laws regardless of workers' immigration status," said Audrey Richardson, an attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services, which filed the lawsuit.
Further reading of the article explains that the employers lied to employees, forced them to take separate paychecks to avoid paying over-time, and refused to pay them for all of their time at work. And while this company has been forced to pay for their crimes, most similar factories are banking on the fact that while all workers have rights on the job, most undocumented immigrants are too scared to speak up. Employers know that it’s a game of chance and they may end saving more on labor costs in the long run, even if they are caught and receive a fine.
This recent court case shows us that with hard work, we can hold companies accountable for their exploitative ways. And we, as a labor rights movement, need to start ensuring that all workers are protected and covered by the law. STITCH believes that one of the best ways to do this is to provide training to immigrant workers about their rights and to support the worker center and labor movement. One of the main reasons that immigrant workers are working for less money than U.S. citizens is because they do not know that they have a right to a minimum wage. If immigrant workers are able to exercise their rights at work and there is less fear on the factory floor, all workers will benefit by seeing the minimum wage become the true minimum it once was.
Finally, true immigration reform would mean that all workers could stand together and fight exploitation.