CommunityThe Bullpen

Exploited Guest Workers from Louisiana to March on Wal-Mart Board Members in NYC

I wrote last Friday about the forced labor situation perpetrated on guest workers at a seafood supplier for Wal-Mart in Louisiana. Now, the National Guestworker Alliance, the feisty labor rights group which helped a group of exploited foreign exchange students at a Hershey chocolate factory get justice last year, will take these guest workers on the road to New York City, to challenge Wal-Mart and its subsidiaries at their corporate headquarters and their homes.

Tomorrow afternoon, the guest workers from Louisiana, who have been on strike from C.J.’s Seafood since June 4, will rally outside the offices of Cisco Systems and Goldman Sachs, whose board members have ties to the Wal-Mart corporate board. They will also demonstrate in the evening outside the home of Wal-Mart board member Michelle Burns.

The workers alleged to the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that they were locked inside their facility at C.J.’s Seafood, forced to endure 24-hour shifts and threatened with violence against them and their families if they failed to meet daily quotas. The threats and intimidation continued when the guest workers attempted to organize and strike for their rights. The DoL and OSHA have ongoing investigations into the case, while Wal-Mart has attempted to obfuscate by saying they could not substantiate the allegations (they didn’t bother to contact one of the guest workers to follow up on the claims).

The National Guestworker Alliance wants Wal-Mart to cancel their contract with C.J.’s Seafood, and mandate basic civil and labor rights standards in their supply chain. The significant price squeezes in the supply chain accounts for the size of Wal-Mart’s profits, so this strikes at the heart of their business model.

However, if the NGA wants to be comprehensive, they’d better take these guest workers to Capitol Hill as well. The H-2B visa program is a major part of the problem here.

…the temporary foreign workers being threatened by C.J.’s Seafood (a Wal-Mart supplier) with shovels and deportation wound up on the Gulf Coast through a hard-to-monitor Department of Labor program that “allows U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary nonagricultural jobs” when an employer can “demonstrate that there are not sufficient U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available to do the temporary work.” The program is well-known for creating unsafe, low-wage jobs that are filled through devious hiring practices including misrepresentation of skills requirements and absurd application processeses […]

So when Senator Tom Harkin, Chairman of both the HELP (Health, Education Labor and Pension) Committee and the Appropriations Sub Committee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (LHHS), recently introduced much-needed and long-awaited reforms to the beleaguered H-2B program, it seemed on the surface like a no-brainer. After all, the U.S. government has been acting as a conduit for wage and safety violations since the program came to be in 1952 under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Alas, this is Washington in 2012 where something as obvious as hiring Americans in America means little to the front-runners in the race to rock bottom. As Dave Jamieson of the Huffington Post reports, a group of Democrats joined Republicans in the Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday in support of Rep. Richard Shelby’s amendment stripping the Harkin bill of H-2B reforms.

Jamieson’s article is pretty bleak. These were solid reforms that would have had the company pay for transportation and visa costs for the guest workers, and make guarantees on wages and work schedules. It could have ameliorated the current situation, which makes H-2B guest workers sitting ducks. But you had old-line Democrats like Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), along with the Senator of jurisdiction for this labor violation, Mary Landrieu (D-LA), voting to block the reforms in committee. They have plenty of big seafood operations in their states, and the money of the bosses matters more than the rights of the workers, I guess.

The NGA has called the vote a “disgrace,” but they should do more. Like stop by with this group from Louisiana.

Previous post

Manufacturing Low Drone Civilian Casualty Counts

Next post

Catholic Hospitals Join Criticism of Obamacare Contraception Mandate

David Dayen

David Dayen