October 30, 2008
DOING THE WORK OF AMERICA: FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKERS MOBILIZE FOR IMMIGRANT WORKER RIGHTS
Immigrant Workers Put Food on the Table for America’s Families
The nation’s largest private sector union and the largest workers’ organization in the food industry, the 1.4 million member United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), is mobilizing to protect the rights of immigrant workers who now comprise the majority of the workforce in much of America’s meat and food processing industry.
UFCW members and leaders are “”getting on the bus”” for the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Seattle, Miami, Minneapolis, Houston, and Chicago.
“”We are bringing a message of hope to immigrant workers. The workers who are doing America’s work— the hard work— the dangerous work— the work that puts food on the dinner table for America’s families. We believe, that if you do the work, you’ve earned the opportunity for legal status, a living wage and respect for your rights. We are calling on America to recognize the contribution of some its most valuable workers,”” said UFCW President Doug Dority.
The UFCW has been aggressively organizing immigrant workers in the meatpacking industry for more than three decades. From Southeast Asian refugees during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s to Latin American and African immigrants of today, the UFCW has been fighting to open the door to the American dream for a new generation of immigrants. A century ago, immigrants from Central and Southern Europe sweated and struggled in the meatpacking industry as chronicled in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Today, in non-union plants, conditions rival those of a century ago with high injury rates, high turnover and low wages.
“”Employers ruthlessly exploit immigrant workers, who often have no understanding of workplace rights and who live in constant fear of deportation. While the government cannot effectively stop employers from recruiting and importing immigrant workers solely for the purpose of economic exploitation, the government does effectively suppress these workers in the struggle against exploitation through allowing employers’ to threaten INS enforcement action against them. To protect American workplace standards, we must legalize and organize immigrant workers to stop the widespread abuse of worker rights,”” according to Dority.
The Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride draws on the experience of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Building bridges to the broader community and drawing strength from the struggles of the past connects today’s immigrants to a support network that can mobilize the social and political power to open the eyes, move the heart and change the laws of America to recognize the rights of immigrant workers.
UFCW activities are featured at stops in Omaha, Nebraska, and Fayetteville. North Carolina.
A rally in Omaha will focus on a community-wide, industry-wide organizing effort in the area’s meatpacking industry. From organizing soccer leagues to organizing unions, community and UFCW activists are building a model for empowering immigrant workers and winning community support. Nebraska’s Republican Governor responded to the effort with a proclamation of a “”Bill of Rights”” for meatpacking workers. The effort has led to organization and a union contract for immigrant workers at three Omaha area plants.
UFCW contracts for immigrant workers have produced tangible improvements in workers’ lives including wage increases and affordable, family health insurance. Union contracts also:
> protect immigrant workers from unfair firings;
> protect workers from discrimination based immigration status; and,
> provide workers with representation and impartial arbitration to protect their rights.
The contracts also establish multi-cultural funds that provide resources for programs such as safety training in Spanish and English as a second language classes.
According to Dority, “”Every worker has an interest in stopping the exploitation of immigrant workers. If employers can get away violating the rights of any worker, they will soon be able to exploit all workers. Immigrant workers are the victims in a system that wants their labor, but would at the same time deny them the rights and rewards of their work. That’s not the American way. When the buses stop in New York, the work begins to re-ignite the flame on the Statue of Liberty to light the way to human rights for this generation of immigrants.””
The UFCW has been fighting back against workplace discrimination against immigrant workers. With a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, the UFCW produced an award- winning Spanish-language video, “”Acuérdense Siempre de Sus Derechos”” (Always Know Your Rights), to help workers protect themselves against employer abuse. Copies of the video are available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org