Building Immigrant Worker Power

If you are organizing workers in California, it’s likely you are organizing immigrant workers.  It’s also very likely that the employer has threatened to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when the workers begin to assert their rights and talk about forming a union.  Too often, employers use the threat of deportation as a form of intimidation, harassment, and retaliation against workers and their families.  Nothing chills an organizing drive quicker than the threat of calling ICE…it can separate workers from their children, parents and spouse. 

The California Legislature and Governor Brown recognized the damaging impact of these threats against immigrant workers and in 2013, passed and signed three California Labor Federation sponsored bills for immigrant worker protections, some of the strongest in the nation.  These bills create new and significant penalties for immigration related retaliation, including potential loss of licenses to operate businesses in the state and criminal penalties for extorting workers with immigration-related retaliation. Thanks to the California Labor Movement, immigrant workers organizing for a union now have protection and recourse when the boss threatens to retaliation when workers are just standing up for their rights on the job.

And we’re not stopping there. We know that joining a union changes lives.  We know that getting immigration papers and work authorization changes lives.  Now California unions are getting ready to help change workers’ lives providing service to immigrant workers eligible for deferred action under President Obama’s Executive Actions: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA)

When implemented, this executive action will defer deportation and offer work authorization to 5 million immigrants across the country, 1.5 million people in California.  Work authorization is about so much more than just being able to go to work every day, it promotes justice for all workers. With workplace authorization, workers can come out of the shadows and fight back against wage theft and unsafe working conditions with more power at their workplace.  Helping immigrant workers with the DACA and DAPA process takes away a tool of retaliation and intimidation from the boss. 

Recently, we were in Orange County, where over 80 union organizers, field reps, political directors, union members and leaders participated in an all-day training on DACA/DAPA, naturalization, and AB 60 Drivers Licenses.  Unions heard from a panel of community partners and immigration service providers in Orange County and benefited from a special presentation from the Mexican Consulate on the services their offices provide to Mexican immigrant workers. 

Participants shared ideas on how they would use this information to help inform, educate, and organize immigrant members, families, and workers.  Excellent materials, developed Monica Guizar of the Weinberg, Roger, Rosenfeld law firm, the Orange County Labor Federation, and the CA Labor Federation, were disseminated and were going to be directly used in organizing campaigns.  This training is moving around the state.  Next up will be San Diego (June 11th) and Sacramento/North Valley (June 18th)

On May 19, the date DAPA was supposed to be implemented, we joined immigrant advocacy groups and community allies to show that we are Ready in California  to implement the President’s Executive Action. During the rally, David Huerta, President of Service Employees International Union, United Service Workers West said:

Hard working, immigrant parents help make this nation strong. We call on the courts to lift the injunction that is keeping immigrant families in limbo and hurting the growth of our local, state, and national economy. It is time to implement DAPA and expanded DACA.

For more information on trainings and the Building Immigrant Worker Power project, visit our site here or contact Angie Wei awei@calaborfed.org.