Posts tagged with 'Center for American Progress'

Weekly Diaspora: 100 Years After Triangle Fire, Immigrant Workers Still Fighting for Labor Rights

Posted Mar 31, 2011 @ 10:39 am by
Filed under: Immigration     Bookmark and Share

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Last week marked the centennial of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, in which 146 mostly immigrant workers died. The tragedy prompted widespread labor reforms in the United States, but its commemoration underscores the plight of immigrant workers similarly exploited today.

As Richard Greenwald notes at Working in These Times, the disaster marked “the moment that a strong collective working class demanded its citizenship rights,” while today, “we are living in a time where organized labor is weak, fractured and leaderless.” He concludes that a rebirth of labor must come, as it did in 1911, from today’s new immigrant communities, which continue to bear the brunt of exploitative labor practices.

Immigrant workers rally for labor rights

Immigrant workers and union organizers articulated the same sentiment when they commemorated the fire last week. According to Catalina Jaramillo at Feet in Two Worlds, labor groups rallied Friday to call for safer working conditions and unionization—especially for the thousands of immigrants who face abuse and exploitation because of their immigration status. One union member articulated the similarities between today’s migrant workers and those who perished in the Triangle Fire:

“I see that a hundred years since this terrible accident that killed so many people, things have really not changed at all,” said Walfre Merida, a member of Local 79, from the stage.

Merida, 25, said before joining the union he worked at a construction company where he was not paid overtime, had no benefits and was paid in cash.

“Safety conditions, none. Grab your tool and go to work, no more. And do not stop,” he told El Diario/La Prensa. ”When we worked in high places, on roofs, we never used harnesses, one became accustomed to the dangers and thanked God we weren’t afraid of heights. One would risk his life out of necessity.”

Kari Lydersen at Working In These Times adds that, while workplaces in general have gotten safer, immigrant workers tend to be employed in the most dangerous professions and are disproportionately affected by workplace health and safety problems. In particular, foreign-born Latinos tend to suffer injury and illness at a much higher rate than U.S.-born Latinos. Lydersen writes:

Work-related injury and illness can be especially devastating for undocumented workers since they are often fired because of their injury and they often don’t collect workers compensation or other benefits due them. […] A 2009 Government Accountability Office report says non-fatal workplace injuries could be under-reported by 80 percent.

Crackdown on immigrant workers bad for the economy

Other labor rights advocates are drawing attention to the federal government’s ongoing crackdown on immigrant workers. Worksite audits which require employers to check the immigration status of their workers have resulted in thousands of layoffs in recent months. This sweeping trend hurts families as well as local economies, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress and the Immigration Policy Center.

The report specifically looks at the economic impact of immigrant workers in Arizona, but its findings present much wider implications. Marcos Restrepo at The Colorado Independent sums up the key points:

  • The analysis estimates that immigrants on the whole paid $6 billion in taxes in 2008, while undocumented immigrants paid approximately $2.8 billion.
  • Increase tax revenues by $1.68 billion.

The report adds that the effects of deportation in Arizona would:

  • Decrease total employment by 17.2 percent.
  • Eliminate 581,000 jobs for immigrant and native-born workers alike.
  • Shrink the state economy by $48.8 billion.
  • Reduce state tax revenues by 10.1 percent.

Meanwhile, the effects of legalization in Arizona would:

  • Add 261,000 jobs for immigrant and native-born workers alike.
  • Increase labor income by $5.6 billion.

Restrepo adds that, in part because of such mounting evidence, immigrants rights advocates are exhorting authorities to recognize immigrants as workers, first and foremost.

Immigrant farm owners contend with exploitation

Of course, even when immigrants are owners, rather than employees, they still disproportionately contend with exploitative industry practices. At The American Prospect, Monica Potts reports on the unique experiences of Hmong immigrants operating chicken farms in the Ozarks. Specifically, Potts examines how behemoth agri-businesses like Tyson exploit the inexperience or limited English abilities of immigrants to sell chicken farms and secure contracts that often put the farmers deep into debt:

Many Hmong were signing contracts they couldn’t read and getting into deals they didn’t fully understand. At least 12 Hmong declared bankruptcy in 2006. […] The concerns are similar for other immigrant farmers, especially Hispanics, who moved into the area to work at chicken-processing plants but were also recruited to buy operations. Hispanic farmers sometimes pooled their money and bought farms without a contract, only to realize later they wouldn’t be able to sell their chickens on the open market. … Many just walked away rather than trying to save their farms.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Diaspora: Why Arizona’s Birthright Bill is Bad for the Economy

Posted Jan 27, 2011 @ 12:15 pm by
Filed under: Immigration     Bookmark and Share

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Arizona lawmakers are expected to introduce an “anchor baby” bill today that would deny birthright citizenship to the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. Modeled after birthright citizenship legislation unveiled by the nativist coalition State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI) earlier this month, the measure is, unabashedly, part of a larger effort on the part of SLLI to challenge existing citizenship law in the United States.

Lawmakers from Georgia, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Carolina have likewise committed to introducing citizenship bills at the state level, while legislators from Nebraska, Indiana, Colorado, Texas and others are determined to implement similarly controversial Arizona-style enforcement measures in their states.

In recent years, communities that implemented harsh anti-immigrant laws have experienced a number of economic and social repercussions which lawmakers continue to overlook in their determination to tighten enforcement. But as nativist policies bleed public coffers and anti-immigrant political speech incites new strains of ethnic violence, the stark consequences of such extremism are becoming harder and harder to ignore.

Devastating local economies

The legal costs of defending constitutionally questionable laws like SB 1070 ought to be obvious. Arizona, which has the rare luxury of drawing from a $3.6 million donor-endowed legal defense fund, spent upwards of $500,000 defending 1070 from legal challenges last year, and could, in the long-term, spend as much $10 million, according to New America Media’s Valeria Fernández. (more…)

Weekly Audit: Congress Caves to Bank Lobby on Foreclosures

Posted May 5, 2009 @ 8:41 am by
Filed under: Economy     Bookmark and Share

by Zach Carter, TMC MediaWire Blogger

On Thursday, lawmakers bowed to pressure from the bank lobby and killed a crucial piece of anti-foreclosure legislation, poisoning the economy in an effort to keep money flowing to Wall Street. Meanwhile, jobs continue to disappear, retirement accounts are evaporating and families are struggling to cope with economic hardship.

Last week’s turn of events proved that the U.S. Senate remains utterly beholden to the financial predators that created the current mess. You might think that after destroying the economy, bankrupting itself and then going on corporate welfare, the banking industry’s clout on Capitol Hill would have diminished. But you’d be wrong.

The American News Project’s Lagan Sebert recorded a lobbying strategy session at the Mortgage Bankers Association annual meeting in Washington, D.C. This is the lobbying team that  torpedoed the anti-foreclosure legislation, which would have given judges the power to revise the terms of unaffordable mortgages in court—a process the bankers refer to as a “cram-down”—and level the playing field for homeowners. As it stands, when borrowers fall behind, banks can use the threat of foreclosure to deny a sustainable long-term loan modification and continue to squeeze them for high monthly payments.

Snippets from the bank lobby meeting seem like some absurd surrealist parody of the U.S. political system, with lobbyists urging other bankers to give money to politicians and claiming credit for holding the economy hostage. “The cram-down vote may come tomorrow, and wouldn’t it be beautiful for it to go down to defeat while we’re up on the Hill,” says an animated David Kittle, Chairman of the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Such bad behavior on Wall Street, of course, has lead to the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The unemployment rate currently stands at 8.5% and is likely to go much higher when the Department of Labor makes its monthly report on the job market this Friday. As Emily Steinmetz explains for High Country News, high unemployment levels are much more than a statistic: They mean real hardships for ordinary people. In Arizona, food banks and churches have been overwhelmed by those seeking basic necessities like food and diapers. Steinmetz profiles St. Mary’s Food Bank, which distributed upwards of 19,000 emergency food boxes across the state in September alone. The boxes contain bare-bones items like canned vegetables, jars of peanut butter and bags of rice for families that cannot afford to eat.

In the below video, GRITtv’a Laura Flanders interviews Heather Boushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress, about how the unemployment crisis is impacting families based on gender. Typically women are much more likely than men to dropout of the labor force when they lose their jobs, but in the current recession, record numbers of men are being laid off.

That’s creating not just a loss of income, since women still face a significant pay gap, but serious schisms when men find themselves unable to perform the role in the family they’re accustomed to playing. It’s also sowing seeds for political unrest: when people find themselves out of a job thanks to structural economic forces beyond their control and facing problems at home as a result of being laid off, it generates a lot of anger.

As University of Texas Economist James Galbraith writes for the Texas Observer, evaluating the economy means examining the links between the lives of ordinary workers and the operation of major institutions like the banking industry and government. When we pretend that there is no public interest in overseeing economically critical firms, when bank regulators hold press conferences in which they literally attack stacks of regulations with a chainsaw, Galbraith says, a resulting calamity for workers and families is predictable.

If this crisis has taught us anything, it is that what Galbraith refers to as “the ritual confidence of public officials and the dry numerical optimism of business economists” simply cannot be trusted without a deeper analysis of the plight of everyday citizens. Powerful people on both Capitol Hill and Wall Street spent the last decade insisting that everything was just fine, when in fact the entire financial system was falling off a cliff.

Writing for Mother Jones, James Ridgeway sketches a brief history of the retirement industry, revealing the steady migration from employer-provided pensions to 401(k) plans outsourced to Wall Street professionals. Ridgeway makes it hard to view the 401(k) industry as anything but a decades-long scam that has been shielded from serious scrutiny by the stock market growth from the early 1980s to 2007. Even the name “401(k)” comes from a covert loophole that was originally designed to help big banks avoid paying taxes.

In 401(k) accounts, workers have their money invested in stocks and bonds picked by a Wall Street fund manager, rather than receive guaranteed benefits from their employer. In return for this precious investment advice, the fund manager takes a bite out of any profits the worker’s 401(k) fund reaps, in some cases as much as 50% of the actual gains. This might not be so egregious if the fund manager made amazing stock picks that garnered huge returns for the worker, but most of these funds underperform index funds. Even high-performing funds are subject to the often arbitrary movement of financial markets. So when, say, stocks take a beating thanks to years of excessive risk-taking on Wall Street, worker accounts are devastated.

This continued influence of the banking establishment in Washington imperils not only our economy but our political legitimacy. When an industry transforms itself into a vehicle for economic destruction, the appropriate response is to crack down on abuse with new rules and regulations. Instead, lawmakers have ignored public cries for accountability and capitulated to the culpable elite, making it increasingly difficult to view Congress as a group of representatives acting for the public good.

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