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Labor Day: Little to Celebrate for US Latinos

Haider Rizvi

UNITED NATIONS - A vast majority of Latino workers in
the United States are forced to work for long hours and low wages with
no health care or any other benefits, says a new study published this

The report, entitled, "Labor Day 2008: A Snapshot of the Latino
Workforce," shows that most Latinos are employed in occupations that
frequently fall short on critical indicators of job quality, including
employer-based health and retirement plans.

According to the National Council of La Raza, a rights advocacy group
that released the study on the eve of Labor Day, there are over 20
million Latinos currently working in the United States.

Researchers associated with the group say those workers account for
more than 14 percent of the United States' total labor force. Yet, for
most, medical treatment and job safety remain a distant dream.

There are about 12 million undocumented workers in the United States
who perform all kinds of blue-collar jobs, most of whom come from
neighboring Mexico and other countries in Latin America.

The report's findings show that nearly 1,000 Latinos were killed on the
job in 2006 -- the highest fatality rate of all racial and ethnic

On May 1, 2006, millions of Latino workers took to the streets of New
York, Los Angeles, and other major towns and cities across the nation
to press for changes in immigration laws and improved treatment of
immigrants in the United States.

During that historic protest, many Latino and other immigrant laborers
walked off their jobs to demand fair wages and improved working

Research shows that many immigrant laborers from Latin America and
other countries do not stand up for their rights in the work place, in
large measure because they are afraid of immigration police and
possible imprisonment or deportation.

In the past few years, the George W. Bush administration has led
efforts to push for policy changes that would make it harder for
undocumented immigrants to stay and work in the United States.


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However, strong resistance from rights groups and some in Congress has
stalled those efforts for the time being, though construction of a
large new wall has begun along the U.S.-Mexico border.

So far, only the Green Party has offered a coordinated opposition to
legislative proposals that target undocumented immigrant workers. The
Green Party says it wants an end to the North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA), in part because the economic policies it has spawned
are creating huge economic disparities in Mexico and forcing workers to
flee to the United States to find blue-collar jobs.

The abusive and discriminatory treatment of Latinos is not something
that is only experienced by those who have no documents. There are many
cases where Latino workers with valid immigration documents have also
suffered from abusive practices.

About two weeks ago, using a procedure set up in the labor side
agreement to NAFTA, some Mexican and U.S. groups jointly submitted a
document to the Mexican government detailing the frequent exploitation
of workers brought into the United States by their employers on
temporary work visas.

The submission follows up on a complaint the workers filed in 2005. The
workers say they have suffered brutal physical injury, stolen wages,
and unsafe housing. They describe their inability to enforce their
rights through the federal and state labor departments, and to obtain
access to the civil legal aid they need to seek redress.

Last October, in response to the workers' initial complaint, Mexico
asked the United States 69 sets of detailed questions regarding the
extent to which state and federal laws, courts, and agencies protect
the employment rights of the workers, all of whom were lawfully present
in the United States on "H2B" temporary visas for unskilled,
non-agricultural workers.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University
School of Law, although the federal Departments of Labor and Homeland
Security are charged with administering the H2B visa program, neither
accepts responsibility for ensuring that employers live up to the
promises they make to the workers they recruit.

"Although the Department of Labor does pursue some worker complaints
regarding wage and hour violations, it is slow to act," said the
Brennan Center's Laura K. Abel. "Alarmingly, this spring the Department
of Labor proposed regulations to further weaken its ability to protect
the rights of H2B workers."


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