As immigrants are targeted, unions stand behind workers from all backgrounds | Opinion
Now more than ever, we need strong unions to fight back against ineffective and inhumane immigration policies that create a climate of terror at the workplace, criminalize workers, and endanger our future.
During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump claimed that reducing the number of immigrants would result in higher wages and greater economic opportunities for the rest of us. As a lifelong tradesman, and as the general president of an international union whose job it is to advance the interests of our nation's hard-working families, I assure you, nothing could be further from the truth.
However, the facts haven't stopped this administration from attacking immigrant workers and their families. Immigration raids have increased by 42 percent since Trump took office – targeting immigrant workers regardless of whether or not they committed a crime.
Put simply: If you're an immigrant, you can be jailed just for showing up to work. In workplaces across the country, corrupt employers are capitalizing on this fear, which drives down standards for everyone.
A report by The Independent newspaper found that the California Labor Commissioner's Office is being inundated with complaints from immigrant laborers, who say employers are threatening them with deportation for seeking lost wages. One immigrant tile installer told the commissioner's office that his employer threatened to report him to immigration authorities after learning he'd filed an unpaid wage claim and promised to have armed enforcement agents waiting for him at the hearing.
Fear mongering aimed at bullying workers and at reinforcing faulty economic policies has a chilling effect on all workers in the building trades, not just recent immigrants.
When the well-being of immigrant families is threatened by deportation, family separation, or worse, it creates a climate of terror. Workers become afraid to speak up when they are paid less or not at all. Wage theft runs rampant. Exploitation takes hold. Safety standards go down. In the construction industry and beyond, a shadow economy takes hold and the race to the bottom accelerates.
These tactics spell disaster for millions of working families of all backgrounds.
President Trump and his administration claim to be the party of "family values," yet they focus government resources and spending tax dollars on tearing families apart. Trump claims to be the champion of the working man, yet his administration institutes policies under which key protections for wages and working conditions are being defunded and taken off the books. It is the height of hypocrisy, and working men and women are paying the price.
That's why thousands of union construction workers, painters, cafeteria workers, janitors, and more are uniting this week in Philadelphia. We will send a clear message that blatant efforts to undermine the strength of the national workforce must be stopped at once.
The labor movement has always sought to protect and advance workers' rights and to create more economic opportunity for hard-working families. Now more than ever, we need strong unions to fight back against ineffective and inhumane immigration policies that create a climate of terror at the workplace, criminalize workers, and endanger our future.
It's a struggle that the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) has fought since 1887. Just last spring, we conducted a national campaign to win the release of Hugo Mejia Murguia, a member of our union who was detained in May 2017 just for showing up to work. Because of our grassroots efforts, Hugo was able to join his family while his asylum petition was being heard.
Other organizations like the Teamsters Joint Council 16 in New York City have also joined the cause. Last September, they declared themselves a "sanctuary union," after one of their members was detained and deported when he showed up for an annual routine appointment. The union now offers workshops about immigrants' legal rights and advocates for immigrant protections by employers in collective bargaining agreements.
It's absurd that this administration would target so many in the U.S. labor pool when unemployment is at a record low, and rhetoric around the the lack of skilled labor is at an all-time high.
At our core, the labor movement is about solidarity. When any worker is forced to live in fear, contractors and employers cut corners, break the rules, and break the law. We won't stand idly by and let any worker or child be terrorized.
Ken Rigmaiden is general president of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.