Asian immigrant workers strategize to combat unfair treatment
on March 14, 2011
More than one hundred people, many wearing shirts with union logos printed on them, convened at the Asian Cultural Center in downtown Oakland on Saturday morning to listen to a panel discuss many of the problems encountered by immigrant laborers, particularly those who are undocumented.
The Oakland Asian Pacific American Workers Rights Hearing was organized by The Alameda Chapter of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance and sponsored by 16 other unions and advocacy groups. The panel was made up of a dozen worker representatives and a number of elected officials, including Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley and Supervisor Wilma Chan.
After a brief silent tribute to victims of last week’s magnitude 9 earthquake in Japan, the panel began with workers— mostly undocumented immigrants—giving testimony about the unfair treatment they have received in the work place.
Among the top problems mentioned by workers were low wage, inadequate time off and lack of health benefits. Most of the immigrant workers are hired by individuals and small businesses where there’re no unions to join. Even those working for big corporations are usually alienated as “independent contractors”, whose rights are unequal to formal employees.
Patricia Aceberos, a domestic worker from the Philippines who works in the homes of medical patients or the disabled, said that sometimes she could only sleep three hours a day. “They’re thinking that if they pay you, they can do what they want, like they own you,” said Aceberos.
Wen Lan Rong, a restaurant worker from China, said that she earned only $1,600 a month working twelve hours a day, six days a week. “We don’t have minimum wage, breaks or other benefits, ” she said in Cantonese. “Many Filipino and Latino workers are facing the same situations.”
Rong said that her hands were injured while she had to deal with frozen meat from the freezer in winter without any protection and now she can barely complete basic tasks, such as opening a water bottle.
After more than an hour of worker testimony, Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan took over and began the policy portion of the panel, which included elected officials and immigration lawyers.
Chan said that the county is willing to help workers to protect their rights, no matter what their immigration status is. Undocumented workers, Chan said, also have the rights to ask for minimum wage and compensations if working overtime. Threatening workers who demand a fair wage with reporting them to the authority is also illegal, Chan added.
“Whether you are unionized or not, if your basic labor rights are being violated by any employer in Alameda County, you should let us know,” Chan said to the crowd. “If there’s an employer that has a history of doing that in the county, we’ll go after them.”
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said her office has hired investigators with bilingual skills to help build cases for immigrant workers whose rights are violated. She said that some employers hire undocumented workers because they want to “take advantage of their immigration status and exploit them,” which is usually done through threats with deportation.
“The broad vision that we derive from protecting workers and holding bad employers accountable makes Alameda County stand out,” said O’Malley.
State Assemblymember Sandre Swanson, who is also the chair of the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment, made reference to the massive protests that are currently going on in Wisconsin.
Tens of thousands of protesters, in response to a bill that weaken collective bargaining rights of public sector union members, have been demonstrating everyday in Madison-the state’s capitol since mid-February.
Nearly 100,000 protesters rallied on the street on Saturday, after Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker signed the bill into law one day earlier. Walker said in a statement that the law will “saves jobs, protect taxpayers and reform government.”
Swanson said every worker has the right to have a fair negotiation and called the Wisconsin’s controversial decision to curtail unions’ bargaining rights a “twisted, backward and prehistoric notion.”
“You can’t reverse the clock,” Swanson said.
For more information about Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance please visit http://www.apalanet.org/
For contact information of Wilma Chan’s office please visit http://www.acgov.org/board/district3/contactus.htm