Yesterday the Education and Labor Committee held a hearing, “Protecting U.S. and Guest Workers: the Recruitment and Employment of Temporary Foreign Labor.”
|Chairman George Miller:
“By preventing U.S. employers from exploiting cheap foreign labor, we will not only end these serious human rights violations, but we will also help fight against a race to the bottom in wages and benefits for all workers in this country.”
|Baldemar Velasquez, Founder of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee:
“Until we can protect the basic human rights of current guest workers, it is difficult to talk about expanding those programs…”
The Committee issued the following release following the hearing:
Guest Workers Need Better Labor Protections, Witnesses Tell Education and Labor Committee
Chairman Miller Says that Protecting Guest Workers' Rights Will Help All Workers in the U.S.
Thursday, June 7, 2007
WASHINGTON, DC — If existing guest worker programs are to be expanded, Congress must first strengthen labor protections for guest workers to prevent those workers from being exploited and abused, and the administration must vigorously enforce the law, witnesses told the House Education and Labor Committee during a hearing today.
Baldemar Velasquez, founder and president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, told the committee that a discussion about the substandard conditions that guest workers face has been absent from the current debate over reforming the nation's immigration laws.
“There has been little attention paid to the conditions under which current guest workers live and work, or to the systematic violations of their labor and human rights in both their countries of origin – especially Mexico – and in the United States,” said Velazquez. “Until we can protect the basic human rights of current guest workers, it is premature to talk about expanding these programs.”
In a report released earlier this year, the Southern Poverty Law Center found that guest workers were often the victims of a number of different types of abuses that start long before the workers have arrived in the United States and continue through and even after their employment ends.
“Guest workers under our current system live in a system akin to indentured servitude,” testified Mary Bauer, director of the Immigrant Justice Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “For too long, guest worker rights have existed mostly on paper. Congress needs to both demand that federal agencies do a better job and provide workers a real mechanism to obtain an attorney and enforce their legal rights when necessary.”
Ray Marshall, former U.S. Secretary of Labor in the Carter administration, questioned whether a new guest worker program was needed at all.
“There is no evidence that a large new guest worker program is necessary,” said Marshall. “We already have temporary workers programs, which should be improved to better meet the legitimate needs of employers, and to prevent the abuse of guest worker and the adulteration of American jobs.”
U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, introduced legislation in March that would provide basic human rights protections to guest workers and safeguard them against recruitment abuses. The legislation, the Indentured Servitude Abolition Act of 2007, holds recruiters and employers responsible for the promises they make to workers, and discourages employers from using disreputable guest worker recruiters.
Miller said that failing to protect the basic rights of guest workers is harmful not just to them, but to U.S. workers and the overall U.S. economy as well.
“By preventing U.S. employers from exploiting cheap foreign labor, we will not only end these serious human rights violations, but we will also help fight against a race to the bottom in wages and benefits for all workers in this country,” said Miller.