Currently, corporations are using loopholes in immigration policy to abuse workers in the United States. And even with this new deal between the AFL and Chamber of Commerce, as Laura Clawson pointed out in her post on the deal last week, many loopholes and backdoors will remain for businesses to exploit workers, including the McDonalds workers who came here on J1 visas through the State Department.
Their story is one of pure corporate abuse.
Before I dive in, tho, a quick personal note: it’s good to be back on Kos. I’m using my real name now, but way back in ur-Kos, I went by BriVT and plowed through the Iraq War debate, the Dean-Clark flame wars (we thought that was important!), pie, Delete My F***ing Account Kos … fun times. But then I went off to work for John Kerry and couldn’t keep up my posting here. But being in the Senate for a couple of years, I got a first hand look at the power of corporations to shape our legislation, so I left to help launch the new Corporate Action Network, a hub to empower groups and individuals to fight corporate abuse and pool their power in all kinds of new ways.
Which bring me to the subject that brings me back here. In the next few weeks the news will be all immigration all the time, and for good reason. Our immigration system has been broken for a long time, and it’s more than past time to fix it. It’s encouraging that groups are coming to the table to make reasonable compromises to move forward, such as the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO coming together around a deal on guest worker policy.
However, guest worker policies are just part of some of the core questions around immigration: how do we treat workers in general and how does that effects immigration patterns? Abuse of workers – on both sides of the border – drives so much immigration, and our guest worker situation is a prime example. Currently, corporations are using loopholes in immigration policy to abuse workers in the United States. And even with this new deal between the AFL and Chamber of Commerce, as Laura Clawson pointed out in her post, many loopholes and backdoors will remain for businesses to exploit workers, including the McDonalds workers who came here on J1 visas through the State Department.
Their story is one of pure corporate abuse.
About a month ago, a group of McDonald’s workers who are here on guest worker visas went on strike in Pennsylvania. They were brought here under the guise of “cultural exchange,” They are actually living in a cramped basement while their wages are being garnished for rent from a landlord. A landlord who is also their boss, in true 19th century style worker exploitation. Not exactly the cultural exchange program they were sold on the State Department web site.
Here’s how it works: young people from around the world sign up for a chance to spend the summer in the United States, where they will be given a temporary job that they must work for a certain number of weeks before they may spend the last couple of weeks of their stay traveling freely around the United States. These guest workers are assigned to ‘sponsors’, who are purportedly charged with supplying them with work, housing, and transportation for the duration of the program.
This system, as it stands, is ideal for exploitation. A guest worker’s sponsor is his or her official representative to the State Department and the guest worker program. Because the sponsor serves as employer, landlord, and program administrator, the sponsor can impose whatever working hours, wages, or living conditions he or she sees fit. If the guest workers don’t like it, they can go back to their home country – without, of course, a refund of their visa application fees or their costly plane tickets.
This nightmare scenario is exactly what happened to Jorge Victor Rios, one of the guest workers currently on strike to protest abuses at the Central Pennsylvania McDonald’s where he and several other guest workers were placed for work. The workers charge that they were paid below minimum wage, given inconsistent work hours (for some just a few hours a week, for others as many as 25 hours straight), and forced to live in a cramped basement for which they paid most of their earnings in rent.
Given the structure of the guest worker program, the only person that the guest workers can complain to is their sponsor, the same sponsor responsible for the abuses in the first place. Complaints were met with threats of deportation and a reduction in hours, which in many cases were already insufficient to earn enough for basic items such as groceries.
The sponsor and McDonald’s franchisee has since been forced out of the McDonald’s franchise and the guest worker program, yet an important question remains: Why isn’t the State Department holding McDonald’s and other offending corporations accountable? With all of the cries to “stop illegal immigration,” why are we not stopping the corporations who are illegally using immigrants for low wage labor? The burden has fallen to young people who are caught up in this web of lies to call out their abusers and hold them publicly accountable. Will that be enough of a deterrent?
So, what is Congress going to do about this in the upcoming immigration reform effort? Nothing so far, which is exactly what big corporations want. We need to make sure that similarly self-serving corporate giveaways stay out of the immigration reform, or workers like Jorge Victor Rojas will continue to be exploited and abused because of their desire to come to the United States.
We simply can’t allow this kind of abuse of guest workers who are so desperate for a chance to work in the U.S. to be abused, and it is downright unforgivable to allow corporate influence in Congress to buy impunity from such abuses. In fact, unmitigated corporate abuse of workers around the world is a core driver of the immigration problems in the United States and other countries. If we want to end guest worker abuse in the United States, we can’t allow corporations to dictate immigration policy in the upcoming immigration legislation. It’s that simple.
For more info and to join the fight for guest worker rights, check out the Guest Worker Alliance.