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Worker's Rights and Immigrant Communities

Chinatown, New York (Marionzetta/Flickr)

Chinatown, New York (Marionzetta/Flickr)

Question and Answer Session

Muzaffar Chishti

The Supreme Court is actually about to decide a very major case, and we’re all disappointed that they accepted to serve on the case, whether undocumented workers are eligible to the full protections of the National Labor Relations Act. As you know, the Supreme Court has visited this issue only once, which was in 1984, in a case called Sure-Tan where the Court said that labor laws apply to all workers without regard to their status. But some, Justice O’ Conner who wrote the opinion said the Court was able to reach that decision because there was no Employer Sanctions Law, which made it unlawful for an employer to hire undocumented workers. So we have all agreed there is a wrinkle in this, that we have been spared all these years - there was a district, D.C. district appeals court decision which is being appealed to the Supreme Court, so that will determine a lot what the future about the protection of undocumented workers are going to be. So, I will be hoping that the Supreme Court will go with the majority of the circuit courts, so you know, I think…if that law stays as is, then we are still in the realm where all labor laws and remedies do apply to undocumented workers. It’s in the area of public benefits, where not only undocumented but a large number of legal immigrants have been excluded from safety net programs. And that needs, and very - that’s all came out of welfare reform. That needs a very significant change of our public benefits program. Which I think is harder to get at this time. That’s why you have, I think what Alex is talking about, the unions program about health care. This is where private, sort of relief is really much more relevant. I mean, the hotel employers can suddenly say, we've got to change out all regulations about our own health care program, and we’ll give coverage to people for a year. And that’s what private, sort of we can do we in private programs, it’s very hard to change the public benefit rules.

Question: Thank you. I’m Eleanor Garvey, City University of New York. One of the historic roles of the union is to provide education and training, which is from my own research, not really been a key factor over the last couple of years. I would like to know, now that we’ve gone through an economic change, an involuntary one as it happens, what the unions are planning or have started to do in terms of providing that kind of education and training that will retool the members for the new reality that we’re facing. That’s number one. Number two, as a result of the, many of the restaurant workers were lost during the World Trading Center, certainly the people in Windows on the World, and other parts of the hospitality and travel and tourism industry really suffered severely during that period, but they also then now are entitled, their families are entitled to many of the benefits even being provided by the various funds that have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, as well as by the Marriotts and the Hiltons that are providing services and financial assistance to those families, and those good deeds have not been addressed, and I would like you to put some effort into addressing those.

Alex Hing

Actually, we have this consortium for workers( education. It’s existed for some number of years, and that has been an ongoing program that basically will do anything to retrain or train and educate a worker or a group of workers so that they’re able to continue employment. This consortium is a consortium basically of unions, and basically, the consortium sets up programs and seeks out grants to run these programs to retrain workers. So, a number of the people from the hotel and restaurant industry were immediately sent to the CWE to do retraining. So I don’t know if you’re aware if this program exists, and it’s been a really great program.

Eleanor Garvey

I’m also addressing the fact that unions and the members have not approached the various city universities and other educational institutions in New York in order to try and get their members enrolled in either continuing education courses or apply for degree programs. I mean, this is a golden opportunity, if you will, for people to become educated and to get degrees that will then help them advance in their careers.

Alex Hing

I think the unions have been doing that in an ongoing way. A part of it is, you have to be working in order for you and your family to accrue the benefits. The employer pays so many cents per hour into a benefit fund, and a part of that is being used for education.


How about financial aid packages for people who are enrolled in the program?

Alex Hing

That’s a good point, and we can raise that. But the other part...see, there isn’t all that much money being made available. There are many…okay, see, one of the things that we’ve been screwing around here, when we talk about immigration, we’re haven’t really talked about race. Because it’s not all immigrants that are being discriminated against. I mean, historically and even now, in the U.S. And, you know, part of it is institutional and systematic. I mean, how many black firemen has anybody seen? And a lot of the money that is being raised for this relief fund goes to the widows’ and orphans’ fund for firemen and policemen. But how many funds are there available for dishwashers, really? Our union is involved in one. The Windows of the World, Windows of Hope is, part of that money is for restaurant workers. But actually, the way the relief money is being distributed is a big issue. Not a lot of it is going to immigrant workers, a lot of whom were displaced and who lost family members at the World Trade Center. So that is a big issue. Because I know a brother, who’s very close to me, who lost his job the second time when his hotel got blown up, who’s received very, very little money, and in order for - FEMA won’t give him any money. So basically, he feels that he has to go around hat in hand, finding a list of agencies, and basically begging them for say, a month abatement of rent here, some food stamps there. So I think that, if you want me to acknowledge that there is tremendous amounts of money coming in for the relief effort, I will acknowledge that. My problem is how it’s being distributed.