Washington - Today at a Capitol Hill news conference, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) was joined by Rev. Jesse Jackson and other major labor and civil rights leaders to introduce the Protect Our Workers from Exploitation and Retaliation (POWER) Act, which aims to improve workers' rights across the board by protecting those at the bottom of the ladder. Specifically, the legislation, cosponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), would offer protections for whistleblower workers who expose workplace abuses by their employers. Also joining the announcement today were Daniel Castellanos, of the Alliance of Guestworkers for Dignity; Arturo Rodriguez, president, United Farm Workers of America; and Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.

Senator Menendez said: "When it comes to making sure people who work for a living are treated fairly by their employers, we are reminded of what John F. Kennedy meant when he said 'A rising tide lifts all boats'. When the most vulnerable workers are able to freely report employer abuses, all workers are given more rights. This is an especially powerful message in these tough times, when folks in our country are working harder then ever to provide for their families, even though their wages remain flat."

Castellanos said: "The POWER Act will allow millions of immigrant workers to organize, to hold bad employers accountable, and to lift the standards in the worst workplaces in the country. When workers in the worst circumstances are given the protection to transform their workplaces, the standards rise for all workers."

Hincapié said: "For far too long, exploitative employers have abused the immigration system to circumvent their obligations under labor and employment law by retaliating against courageous workers who have stood up for their rights. The POWER Act will provide workers with an important tool to finally be able to fully exercise their labor rights without fear of retaliation thereby improving the working conditions for all workers."

Background on legislation:

Unscrupulous employers have the power and ability to threaten workers for exercising their labor rights and are infrequently held liable for labor law violations. For example, if workers do file a labor complaint or join with their fellow workers to form a union, employers can either threaten workers with violence or deportation. These actions have resulted in the depression of wages and working conditions of all workers. Immigrant workers who are under the constant threat of deportation are forced to accept diminished working conditions. This, in turn, undermines the broader labor market. When some workers are easy to exploit, the conditions of all workers suffer because employers "race to the bottom" and because opportunities for collective action by workers are undermined. This bill would raise the bar for treatment of all workers.

As such, the bill would:

• Provide temporary protection for immigrant victims of crime and labor retaliation so that employers who are guilty of labor violations may be held accountable. It would allow federal, state or local law enforcement officials and federal labor officials to permit a worker to stay in the country temporarily if the person has filed a workplace claim or is a material witness in any pending or anticipated workplace claim. A worker who has been the victim of a labor violation and who is working with law enforcement may receive a stay of removal.

• Provide U-Visas for victims of labor retaliation who cooperate with law enforcement. It would expand the "U" visa that is available under current law to include civil labor violations when: 1) workers are threatened with retaliation or abuse for exercising their labor rights or actually experience retaliation; 2) the worker is cooperating with law enforcement and 3) the worker suffered severe abuse or would suffer harm if deported.

• Preserve labor law enforcement opportunities. When an agency 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 aren't deported before the appropriate labor agency is notified and has a chance to interview the workers.