When immigrant workers speak up to protect their rights and the rights of their co-workers, all too often employers respond by retaliating against – even firing – those workers. Under several new laws, immigrant workers would have important protections in place to stop this exploitation. This week, the California State legislature has passed new protections designed to stop unscrupulous employers from retaliating against immigrant workers who stand up for their rights. The bills await signature by Governor Jerry Brown.
The California Labor Federation sponsored a package of bills to protect workers regardless of immigration status. AB 263 (Assemblyman Roger Hernandez) and SB 666 (Senator Darrell Steinberg) will help us enforce basic labor laws by prohibiting employers from using immigration-related threats when workers speak out about unfair working conditions. AB 524 (Assemblyman Kevin Mullin) makes it clear that making immigration threats in order to get away with wage theft may constitute criminal extortion.
California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski:
Employers should be on notice that with these bills, retaliating against workers who stand up for their basic rights will have serious consequences. These new protections are vital to protecting all workers who are afraid to report these abuses. As long as unscrupulous employers can exploit low-wage immigrant workers with impunity, all workers suffer.
The extent of the retaliation against immigrant workers was documented in a recent report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), a co-sponsor of these bills.
NELP attorney Eunice Cho:
For too long, employers have used the threat of deportation to silence workers who are victims of stolen wages, unsafe working conditions, and abuse on the job. Immigrant workers are more likely to suffer from abuses such as wage theft and work in low-wage industries. We celebrate the legislature’s support for protecting the rights of some of the most vulnerable workers in the state.
Workers who have experienced this sort of retaliation know firsthand how devastating it can be. Gerardo Aguirre, a former employee at Marquez Brothers, a food manufacturing company, was one of several workers fired while standing up for his rights. He said
These laws will protect workers like me who try to speak out and then face retaliation. The workers at Marquez Brothers are united in standing up to intimidation, at work and in the State legislature. We need laws that allow all workers to speak up and protect immigrant workers from these kinds of abuses.
California has a strong history of protecting the rights of immigrant workers. In 2002, California passed SB 1818, which clarified that immigration status is irrelevant for purposes of enforcing state labor and employment laws.
More than fifty community organizations, representing civil rights, immigrant rights, and labor rights, are supporting this bill package. The bills now head to Governor Jerry Brown, who has until October 13th to sign it into law.
We applaud the State Senate and Assembly for passing these important bills. We urge Governor Brown to sign this bill and protect the rights of all workers.