As families in Iowa struggle to make ends meet, they are justified in feeling threatened when they see what were once good jobs turned into low-wage, sweatshop labor.
In industries across the country, workers are not receiving the wages owed them under minimum-wage and overtime laws. Earlier this decade, a U.S. Department of Labor report found that 60 percent of U.S. nursing homes routinely violated overtime, minimum-wage or child-labor laws. Other studies have found similar levels of violations in the garment and restaurant industries.
In Iowa, the minimum-wage and overtime laws have some of the weakest enforcement provisions of any state in the country. Penalties usually amount to no more than telling employers to pay what they originally owed their workers. Because legal action is so expensive and so likely to produce meager returns, few employees can afford to pursue claims. Because civil fines are so low, the state doesn't collect enough for strong, ongoing enforcement.
Forget the stalled debate in Congress. State legislatures are already
barreling ahead on immigration legislation. And the choices could not
be more stark.
While some states are embracing criminalizing undocumented
immigrants, other states are embracing progressive policies that will
boost wages for all American workers and solve the root causes of
The real fear by most Americans is that immigrants are driving down
wages for existing American workers. However, rather than further
punish exploited immigrant workers in the underground economy, many
state leaders recognize that a better solution is to end the exploitive
conditions that make hiring lower-paid immigrants so attractive for
employers in the first place.