New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson recently signed a wage enforcement bill (H 489)
to allow underpaid workers to collect their back wages plus twice that
amount in damages. The bill was backed by community groups and labor
unions as well as the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.
New Mexico now becomes the eighth state that allows workers to collect
treble damages against employers violating the minimum wage — a key
deterrent to employers to ensure compliance with the minimum wage.
JERSEY CITY, NJ — At a press conference this morning, Gov. Jon Corzine
unveiled the results of his Blue Ribbon Panel on Immigration Policy,
which included recommendations for the establishment of an Office on
New Americans to help integrate immigrant families into the state’s
culture and work force. Policy experts at the Progressive States
Network (PSN) were quick to praise the panel’s recommendations, which
they placed within an emerging trend among state lawmakers to include
working immigrant families into plans for shared economic growth.
According to PSN Interim Executive Director Nathan Newman, who authored
a comprehensive 50-state analysis of state immigration policy last
September, “The story that states are rushing out to punish
undocumented immigrants is really a smoke screen. When you look at the
facts, you see that more and more states are finding ways to integrate
immigrants into a growing workforce and thriving small business
community. States like New Jersey realize that there is a far better
economic future in working together than there is in dividing the
population against itself.”
President Obama's pick for secretary of labor, Rep. Hilda Solis, could
help shape a new approach to immigration control that emphasizes the
robust enforcement of labor laws.
Where the Bush administration stepped up workplace immigration
enforcement, sweeping up migrant workers and not always going after the
employers who illegally hire them, the Obama administration is expected
to take a different tack.
Immigrant advocates hope that strengthening compliance with
workplace health and safety laws and wage and hour standards - which
Solis promised in her hearing before the labor committee in January -
will protect workers in general and could reduce the likelihood that
some employers will seek to profit by hiring undocumented workers.
News item #1: As of Nov. 30, 13 states had enacted 19 employment laws
related to immigrants since Jan. 1, 2008, according to a December
report issued by the National Conference of State Legislatures. The
laws covered hiring unauthorized workers, employment verification,
unemployment benefits and so forth.
The states: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Maryland,
Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia
and, of course, Mississippi.
State labor authorities levied nearly $10 million in fines Wednesday for wage violations at an Iowa meatpacking plant where nearly 400 illegal immigrant workers were arrested in a raid in May.
The fines against Agriprocessors Inc.,
one of the country’s largest kosher meatpackers, were the largest wage
violations penalties ever levied in Iowa, state officials said.
About $9.6 million of the fines were for illegal paycheck deductions
the company made for protective jackets and other uniforms that
packinghouse workers were required to wear. Iowa inspectors found
96,436 deductions for uniforms from the paychecks of 2,001 workers, and
brought fines of $100 per incident.
The workers’ wages had been reduced by $192,597, Iowa officials said.
“You cannot legally deduct for clothing required by the company,”
said Kerry Koonce, a spokeswoman for Iowa Workforce Development, the
state’s labor department.
Given the justifiable concern by voters surrounding illegal
sweatshops, a number of state leaders are looking beyond punishing
immigrant workers, to concentrating on raising wages for all workers, and
increasing penalties for wage law violators across the board.
While many advocates of "fighting illegal immigration" claim to be
doing so in the name of helping low-income workers, it is remarkable that
almost none of them are addressing the pervasive theft of low-income worker
wages by employers violating wage laws. Instead of promoting a narrow
tactic like sanctions against employers of undocumented workers, which only
drives the problem of low-wage employment underground, cracking down on sweatshops
and wage violators would be one of the most effective deterrents to employers
recruiting undocumented immigrants. If
all employers have to pay a decent wage, the attraction of hiring undocumented
immigrants would diminish tremendously. Since going after employers who violate
wage laws will politically unite all workers, immigrant and native alike,
cracking down on those abusive employers will actually strengthen the
progressive political base.
anti-immigrant politicians proposed workplace sanctions against immigrants in
2008, a number of progressive leaders in states proposed bills or
amendments that highlighted the broader illegality of broken wage and safety
laws that undermine workplace standards for all Americans.