CIRS Blog about Rural California
By Megan Beaman and Kevin Kish
Low-wage workers—regardless of immigration status—shoulder more than their fair share of workplace violations, including unpaid wages, unsafe working conditions, and discrimination and harassment. Immigrant low-wage workers are particularly vulnerable—working under constant fear that if they exercise basic workplace rights, they will suffer retaliation that could result in the separation of their families; loss of homes and property; or return to violence or extreme poverty in their home countries.
This fear of retaliation is based in fact. We as advocates have seen it happen time and time again—and it overwhelmingly leads to workers staying silent, leaving employers without even a slap on the wrist when they break the law.
Scofflaw employers do not and will not stop violating the law if they are not held accountable for their violations to all workers. Any other type of piecemeal enforcement, or lack of enforcement, encourages employers to hire vulnerable undocumented workers, disregard labor laws as basic as the minimum wage, and then fire them when they complain – all to the economic disadvantage of employers who do follow the law.
Earlier this summer, the California Supreme Court in the Salas v. Sierra Chemical Company case agreed, deciding that companies that hire undocumented workers (knowingly or not) do not get a free pass to discriminate against them.
In the last fiscal year alone, 368,644 immigrants were removed from the United States. Since 2009, the number of deported immigrants is more than 1.9 million and as deportation rates have increased throughout the Obama administration, President Obama, and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) have received harsh criticism for their immigration enforcement policies. At his 2013 year-end press conference Obama said, “immigration reform is probably the biggest thing I wanted to get done this year.” Even if federal legislation continues to stall, 2014 marks 50 years since the termination of the Bracero Program and as we revisit the Bracero period, we have the opportunity to honor the tremendous labor sacrifices of both the Braceros and the immigrant farmworkers that serve as the backbone of America's agricultural economy.
From the Spanish word “brazo,” meaning “arm,” the Braceros were 4.6 million Mexican nationals who worked legally in the United States from 1942-1964 under the largest guest worker program in U.S. history, the Bracero Program, formally known as the Mexican Farm Labor Program. Infill the World War II labor shortage. The the majority worked as field laborers in agriculture. These Unsung Heroes supported America’s war effort by providing food aid for the Allied Forces and following
It has been 23 years since workers at a massive farming company in Fresno, Calif., led by labor icon Cesar Chavez, organized and voted to have the United Farm Workers union represent them.
Certifying a union does not guarantee a contract, and in the decades since the UFW came to Gerawan Farming, laborers have picked and sorted peaches and grapes without one. As the years have passed, many of the Gerawan workers who worked to unionize have moved on.
It has been so long that, just as a contract finally appeared to be forthcoming this year, some workers clamored to strip the UFW of its right to represent Gerawan workers. While union officials contend workers were prodded by management, the workers who repudiate the UFW ask where the union has been all these years.
"We got surprised because we never knew the union" represented us, said Silvia Lopez, a 15-year employee who has organized the UFW decertification campaign. "So many years working here, and then they show up and say they have a union there."
The situation at Gerawan is raising questions about whether California's landmark agricultural labor law, a signature achievement of Gov. Jerry Brown's first tenure, is working as intended to expedite contract disputes.