Guestworkers Urge Secretary of Labor Solis to Revoke Exploitative Bush Administration Regulations – 2/24/09
For immediate release: Contact: Jennifer J. Rosenbaum (615) 423-0152
Feb. 24, 2009 Daniel Castellanos (504) 881-6587
Guestworkers Urge Secretary of Labor Solis to Revoke Exploitative Bush Administration Regulations
NEW ORLEANS, LA – The Alliance of Guestworkers for Dignity on Tuesday urged immediate action from newly appointed U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis to reverse midnight regulations enacted by the Bush administration that exploit vulnerable guestworkers.
The regulations reversed the USDOL’s decades-long position that employers must reimburse guestworkers the thousands of dollars in fees they pay employers and their agents to obtain guestworker jobs in the United States. The Bush regulations contradicted judicial decisions by the Eleventh Circuit and every lower federal court that had previously ruled on the issue.
“Our members plunge their families into debt to pay these fees,” said Daniel Castellanos, an organizer with the Alliance of Guestworkers for Dignity. “Then our crushing debts to recruiters and employer agents block us as guestworkers from protecting our fundamental labor rights, including our right to organize.”
The charging of exorbitant fees to obtain guestworker jobs is one of the worst abuses of the H-2 guestworker program, under which U.S. businesses bring in tens of thousands of workers each year for low-skilled jobs that last less than one year. Because guestworkers are prohibited by law from finding other work, they are highly vulnerable to abuse by unscrupulous employees who hold the power to send them home, in debt, if they complain about pay or working conditions.
The Bush regulations went into effect Jan. 18 – two days before the Obama administration took office. “Instead of reforming the guestworker program, the Bush Department of Labor gave more tools to employers who are shopping for the most exploitable workforce,” said Saket Soni, director of the New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice. “This hurts workers from the United States and workers from other countries.”
“We were being used to undermine African-American and other Gulf Coast workers through these obstacles to exercising fundamental labor rights—the right to organize, the right to a minimum wage, and the right to be free from discrimination,” said Castellanos. “We urge Secretary Solis to immediately and publicly reject and refuse to enforce these regulations to protect guestworkers, our home communities, and U.S. workers blocked from fair jobs by workers trapped in a cycle of exploitation.”
“In an economic crisis, the DOL’s first order of business should be protecting the rights of workers, not the profits of employers. In its last days, the Bush administration attacked guestworkers and undermined US workers,” said Soni. ”We call on Secretary Solis to interrupt this race to the bottom.”
Read the full letter to Secretary Solis here.
The Alliance of Guestworkers is a grassroots project of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice. The Workers’ Center is dedicated to organizing workers across race and industry to build the power and participation of workers and communities. It organizes day laborers, guestworkers and homeless residents to build movement for dignity and rights in the post-Katrina landscape. For more information, visit www.nowcrj.org.