Sen. Menendez, Rep. Chu Introduce Bicameral Bill to Protect Immigrant Workers Reporting Labor Violation Claims

Sen. Menendez, Rep. Chu Introduce Bicameral Bill to Protect Immigrant Workers Reporting Labor Violation Claims

The bicameral POWER Act would protect workers who file or are a witness in a claim against an employer for labor violations from deportation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-Calif.-27) led the introduction of the Protecting Our Workers from Exploitation and Retaliation (POWER) Act. The bicameral legislation is a critical step forward in helping to create safe and just workplaces by providing temporary protection for immigrant workers who experience retaliation for exercising their rights under existing labor and employment laws.

“As the Trump Administration continues their attacks on immigrant communities, vulnerable immigrant workers who experience unsafe working conditions or fear retaliation by their abusive employers need to be protected by law,” said Sen. Menendez. “Our legislation will help ensure workers have a path to report unlawful or unfair labor practices and that they don’t fall through the cracks of a broken immigration system just because they stand up for their rights.”  

“Immigrants make up 17.4% of the labor force in the United States and are important contributors in the healthcare, manufacturing, construction and agriculture industries. Without immigrants, many of these industries would suffer and make the United States less globally competitive and prosperous. But, despite how much we depend on immigrants, some unscrupulous employers seek to exploit them, making them work extreme hours in difficult and dangerous conditions. They do this knowing that, being undocumented, the workers will be too afraid to report this abuse to the authorities. That is why I’m proud to introduce the POWER Act with Sen. Menendez. U-Visas are a legal way to protect the rights of workers – regardless of who they are – and uphold our laws. Abuse is wrong, and this bill will help us stop it,” said Congresswoman Judy Chu.

At a time of increasing workplace raids, discrimination, and threats against immigrants, the provisions in the POWER Act would protect workers from employers who use illegal business practices and threaten workers with deportation if they go to the authorities. This legislation will protect immigrant workers like Joel Ramirez Palma, a 38 year-old construction worker from Honduras who has lived in the U.S. for almost 20 years, and whose participation in the investigation into the New Orleans Hard Rock Hotel’s collapse was cut short by his abrupt detention by federal immigration authorities

“Employers should not be able to use the threat of deportation to retaliate against, intimidate, or punish an employee for exercising their rights,” said Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, Chairman of the House of Representative’s Committee on Education and Labor. “The POWER Act will strengthen protections for all workers and help ensure that unscrupulous employers are brought to justice for labor violations. This bill also represents an important step forward in making sure that workers can fully realize their rights on the job and do not have to live in fear while trying to make a living.”

The legislation is supported by organizations such as: AFL-CIO, Job with Justice, the National Employment Law Project, the National Immigration Law Center and the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice.

“Across the country, working people are standing up and fighting back against wage theft, discrimination, sexual harassment. union busting, and other egregious violations.  Our system relies on workers to take action to keep workplaces safe and fair, but it takes real courage to come forward because the risks are so great,” said Shannon Lederer, Director of Immigration Policy, AFL-CIO. “The POWER Act protects the brave folks who speak up to enforce core labor standards, and prevents immigration enforcement from being used as a tool to crush worker organizing.  Ensuring that all workers have the freedom to exercise their basic rights on the job is critical to our efforts to rewrite the rules of our economy and win family sustaining wages for everyone in our industries and communities.

“When JWJ was in Mississippi following mass ICE raids at poultry plants, we saw first-hand how unscrupulous bosses were taking advantage of vulnerable working people -- cutting corners on safety, continuously stealing wages, not paying employees enough to live, and telling parents that rather than getting a raise, they should have their children work at the plants in order to earn extra money, all the while threatening them with ICE if they complained,” said Erica Smiley, Executive Director, Jobs With Justice. “As ICE ramps up its worksite raids, working people are at risk of being pushed even deeper into the shadows. That’s why we need the POWER ACT, which will give people the protection they need to report abuse and improve their industry.”

"Our economy depends on the important work performed by immigrants across the country, and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. But in our current political climate, employers are increasingly using immigration threats to gain leverage over workers,” said Jessie Hahn, Labor & Employment Policy Attorney, National Immigration Law Center. The POWER Act is a much-needed change to our labor and immigration laws, because it takes a worker’s immigration status “off the table” during a labor dispute. The freedom to speak publicly about labor violations without fearing immigration consequences benefits all people at those worksites, and allows them to build power on the job while pushing for better working conditions. Working people should not face deportation for speaking up about abusive conditions at their jobs, and that’s why we’ll keep fighting for the POWER Act and stronger protections against retaliation."

"When employers can use the threat of deportation to keep immigrant workers from reporting labor violations or safety concerns it puts all workers in danger," said New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice Executive Director Ursula Price. "We may never learn what caused the Hard Rock Hotel collapse that killed three workers in New Orleans last month because ICE is deporting a key witness. We need to pass the POWER Act so workers like Joel Ramirez Palma have the protections they need to speak out and help prevent tragedies like this."

“As a 2019 NELP report on retaliation highlighted, countless workers across the country lack adequate protection from employer retaliation, and immigrant workers remain especially vulnerable. All workers and businesses benefit when workers can assert their rights and hold employers accountable for unlawful practices without fear of losing their job or being quickly subjected to deportation,” said Christine Owens, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project. “The POWER Act would mark a significant improvement in how our country supports workers and enforces our basic labor protections.”

The POWER Act:

  • Expands U-Visa Eligibility for Workers Suffering Serious Labor Violations. Under current law, immigrants who are the victims of certain crimes including domestic violence, rape, abusive sexual contact, abduction, blackmail and felony assault may be eligible for a U-visa. The POWER Act expands eligibility for U-visa relief for workers suffering serious labor violations, who cooperate with local, state, or federal worker protection agencies and who have suffered substantial abuse or harm related to the workplace claim or would face extreme hardship upon removal.
  • Provides Temporary Protection for Victims of Crime and Labor Retaliation. The bill allows federal, state or local law enforcement officials, labor officials, and worker protection agencies to ask the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide temporary lawful status with employment authorization to workers who have filed a workplace claim or are material witnesses in any pending or anticipated workplace claim.
  • Strengthens Labor Agencies’ Investigative Powers. The bill mandates that when DHS conducts a worksite enforcement action, and (1) there is a labor dispute in progress or (2) the agency received information as a means to retaliate against workers for enforcing their labor rights, DHS must ensure that workers arrested or detained are not deported before the appropriate labor agency is notified and has a chance to interview the workers.
  • Holds Employers Responsible for Labor Law Violations. The bill provides grounds for a stay of removal in immigration proceedings for three years with employment authorization if workers are pursuing a workplace claim in a local, state, or federal worker protection agency or court. To be eligible for the stay, the workers must agree to work with the government to pursue labor claims against their employer.
  • Removes the Caps on U-visas. Currently, there is a backlog of almost 240,000 U-visa applicants because only 10,000 visas are available annually. This bill would remove this limitation and expands the time frame for stays of removal while the U-visa petition is pending. It also waives the expensive fees for U-visa applicants.

The bill is also sponsored by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Catherine Cortez Masto, Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and by Reps. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.-03), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.-32), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.-40), Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas-29), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.-8), David Trone (D-Md.-6), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.-7) and Nanette Barragan (D-Calif.-44).

The text of the bill can be downloaded here.

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