Immigration reform is now in the hands of the Republican-controlled house, and the judiciary committee released its own version of a guest-worker program that passed committee Wednesday. The bill, proposed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va., pictured) removes wage protections, takes the program out of the hands of the Department of Labor, and limits the ability of guest workers to sue employers if they are exposed to pesticides or illegal working conditions.
Service Employees International Union treasurer Eliseo Medina says the bill would create a “third class” of workers in this country.
“This is the worst piece of legislation that has been passed by any committee in a long, long, long time,” Medina says. “I don’t know who represented Congressman Goodlatte when he was drafting this bill, but it certainly was not farm workers, and it certainly was not growers.”
|U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s bill maintains the status quo. “Are [Mexicans] good enough to come to this country and work but not good enough to have the same rights and protections as other workers?” asks SEIU’s Eliseo Medina.|
Medina had previously told the Spectator he was willing to “hold his nose” through some of the details of the Senate’s bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill because the changes to the guest worker program afforded more rights to temporary workers. Medina says a guest worker program can help or hurt the American working class, depending on how it is written.
“We need to provide a legal channel for the immigrants of the future to come to this country,” Medina says. “We need to make sure guest-workers do not displace U.S. workers, and that they are not used to lower wages and worker protections than U.S. workers.”
In a statement Wednesday, Goodlatte said the new bill “protects farmers from abusive lawsuits.”
By putting farmers in the driver’s seat rather than Washington bureaucrats, they will be better equipped to compete in the global economy and continue growing our crops. It is vital that American farmers have access to a workable guest worker program now so that they can continue putting food on Americans’ tables.
But Medina says it puts low-wage workers—foreign and domestic—at risk of labor abuse.
“Guest-workers need to have the full protections of U.S. labor laws, including health and safety and minimum wage laws,” Medina says. “If they don’t have those protections, it gives an unfair advantage to companies who want to exploit low-wage guest workers over American workers.”
He added: “We don’t want to have the same problem where we have millions of undocumented workers with no rights. We also don’t want to have millions of guest-workers with no rights, because the end result is the same, it lowers the standards for workers in this country.”
Specifically, the bill allows employers to make guest-workers sign a contract that revokes their ability to join class-action lawsuits by forcing them into binding arbitration. This provision protects employers who make their workers sick with pesticides or who systematically steal wages because it makes each worker fight individually and settle out of court.
A house judiciary aide says the bill “maintains critical worker protections for domestic and foreign workers alike, such as the continuation of a minimum work guarantee for certain workers and mandatory workers compensation insurance coverage for workplace injuries.”
Medina says it creates a “third class” of workers.
“I am absolutely perplexed by what Representative Goodlatte is trying to accomplish with this bill,” Medina says. “Is he pursuing an ideological agenda, that he wants to create a third class of workers in this country? If so, why? Is it because of who these workers are? Are we good enough to come to this country and work but not good enough to have the same rights and protections as other workers?”
Win Vitkowsky is a journalist who works in New York and New Haven. (Image via)