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July 12, 2005

Feds impersonate OSHA to nab illegal aliens

Jordan of Confined Space reports that immigration authorities posed as OSHA agents to capture illegal aliens. OSHA has been striving to win the trust of undocumented workers for decades. Now the feds have thoughtlessly shattered that trust. The stakes are high because immigrants are more likely to work in dangerous jobs and less likely to get the safety training they need. Jordan explains:

We have a very well-known and deadly problem in this country: Immigrant workers -- especially undocumented immigrant workers -- get injured and killed on the job at a much higher rate than native-born workers.

Part of the problem is lack of training; they're not aware of many of the hazards and they don't know about OSHA standards. But even when they know the work is dangerous and know that they can call OSHA, they're generally reluctant to complain. Partly it's fear of getting fired. But it's also because in their country of origin, there is often a great (and justified) mistrust of government officials.

For undocumented workers it's even worse. They're afraid OSHA inspectors will turn them in to immigration authorities, even though OSHA and immigrant worker support groups have gone to great lengths to assure immigrant workers that they have nothing to fear from calling OSHA.

I feel safer already, don't you?

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» Betrayal in North Carolina: Unions Condemn OSHA Impersonators from Labor Blog
Reprinted From Confined Space Through the miracle of the blogosphere, the story of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency sting on undocumented immigrants in North Carolina is finally making its way through Washington D.C. As Confined Spa... [Read More]

Comments

It isn't even really about being safer. It's about power.

The federal government gets to act like it's doing something about national security. Employers who hire undocumented workers, at the cost of losing a few every now and then, get to have the federal government aid them in disciplining their workforce. And, of course, said employers will have even less incentive to provide safety training or a safer workplace because workers will be more reluctant to report it.

All this lamenting about American workers being safe, yet, see how much Chinese stuff is in your house? Do you are buying a car made in the USA by an American company? If the answer to either of those is no, you are doing more to screw people than any stupid OSHA worker. Consumers screw workers more than any political party.

Thanks for the link Lindsay, you are one of my favorite news filters.

> Do you are buying a car >made in the USA by an >American company?

Why does it have to be an American company? Honda employs plenty of people in the US, and they have an excellent record for corporate ethics.

In fact, why does it have to be an American made car? If you are concerned about the rights of workers, and are not blinded by nationalism, buying from German and Japanese companies that treat their people better than American companies is a just consumer decision.

Here in NC, our fastest growing segment is the Hispanic population. Communities like Faison (cukes) and the military bases are dependent on this cheap labor force. This is an economy driver here and our local agencies are taking the lead on enforcing federal mandates. Do you see how our federal govt is abandoning their role, even cynically exploiting this gap to score points? Now you know what converted Freedom Fries Jones to call for a troop pullout...

This kind of behavior incentivizes hiring undocumented aliens, because it creates an environment of nonregulation of workplace standards that is much cheaper than an OSHA-friendly all-doc'd-or-Anglo workplace. The gains in employment enforcement for workplaces w/ undocs were somthing very rightly wanted by both immigrants and a lot of labor. This penalizes both and creates a benefit for skilled illegal employers.

This new strategy seems also to be part of a another, larger project. It was clear after 9/11 that much of DHS was going to be a method for breaking the power of public sector unions. (Part of undoing the legacies of the new deal and the great society is undoing what's left of the coalition's major social partner, the unions.)

As much as these new practice by OSHA is about power over illegal aliens, it's also about undoing OSHA itself. We should keep in mind that OSHA is one of the pillars of curtailing the power of business. If this administration is shameless about anything, it's about undoing the fetters placed on capital by democracy--as someone once said, the bourgeoisie never completed its revolution.

This reminds me of a year or so ago when the US military went undercover in Afghanistan disguised as volunteer workers (ala Red Cross or Peace Corps) to root out Taliban, thus undermining any trust the Afghani people may have had in these relief organizations and endangering the real volunteers.
I can't find this old story again, though - does anyone remember it or know where to find it?

And the company that employed these illegal workers was immediately hit with heavy fines for violating the law, right?

Sometimes I crack myself up.

Mnemosyne: The employer's role in this is particularly weird and murky: McNeely said one of the contractors who employed the immigrants faxed him a copy of the flier. It is printed in English and Spanish. It tells all contract workers to attend an OSHA briefing at the base theater and promises free coffee and doughnuts.

I have a counter-intuitive approach to the problem of immigration. It seems to me that most of the workplace danger that illegal immigrants encounter is a direct result of the undocumentaed nature of their residence and empoyment here. They can't complain, or believe they cannot, about safety violations because they fear the consequences. Employers know that the illegals have very little recouse within the system so they take advantage.

It is currently extremely difficult to legally immigrate to the US from Mexico. Most people, if they went through the process, would be turned down. Not sure of the exact genesis of this policy, but I'll go out on a limb and say it's due to xenophobic and protectionist impulses. Restricting immigration is, I believe, a classic GOP position.

On the other hand, US businesses have found cheap illegal labor to be their lifeblood. How else to compete with cheap foreign labor?

So it strikes me that there is a conflict of interest. The GOP base wants the illegals out and the GOP elite want the illegals in. So the government responds to this by taking a tough line on immigration (in terms of denying them basic human rights) while simultaneously allowing the floow of illegals to continue. So everybody's happy. Except the illegals. The fact that it is in the best interest of US business to keep their cheap labor in a legal limbo only ends up hurting the immigrant at the center of the policy. Add to this the harrassment by the authorities in a show of "get tough on illegals" window dressing, and you have a recipe for injustice.

So what to do about it? If I were in charge, I would deport every single illegal immigrant back to their home country tomorrow. That would force businesses to either a) think of a way to run their factories that dosn't involve underpaid illegals, or b) lobby the government for a more relaxed immigration policy. My money's on B. The end result would be a more equitable, transparent immigration process, and rights for recent immigrants in terms of minimum wage, benefits, worker's comp. and safety expectations.

The current system of legal limbo benefits the big businesses and hurts the illiegal immigrant. As a proud liberal, I want to reverse that.

"... any stupid OSHA worker." ??? Something tells me Stork doesn't do the kind of work that might ever get him injured. If he does work.

Japanese car companies in the United States are non-union shops. I'm in favor of nationalism on jobs because I grew up in Ohio when all the car and rubber plants shut down in the late 1970s and early 1980s and the damage was catastrophic.

Republicans and later Democrats promised that free trade would bring back the salad days for these people and that has not happened. Instead we have a generation of machinists, welders and skilled craftsmen of all kinds stacking boxes at Walmart and it is a waste of talent.

Yes it is good that Germans treat their workers well, but, back in the day, American workers were getting better and better deals all of the time. A good union job at a car plant paid $20 / hr at a time when $20 / hr was a really good amount of money. Even car companies didn't care about paying the big union bucks because they were making mountains of money. In a way, it was capitalism at its best, making the rich people rich but also elevating the middle class. I thought this would happen to the IT industry - we would move from being machinists to programmers, but that hasn't happened either. All of -those- jobs are being outsourced.

I think at some level too, it is important for a sense of national ownership and community for people to have built the things around them. My grandfather worked on airships, another worked at making plastic kitchenware. You could point to things that you made and have some pride in the country around you and that in turn reinforces the important idea of collective responsibility that is lost in today's political climate. In some ways, we have gone too far to the right in terms of chasing investment for its own sake when we ought to have a balance. And in writing that I say, yeah, I remember when I used to hate the unions for their crazy work rules, corruption, and political games, but I'd rather have a bad union over here in the USA than no jobs and a ghetto because factories leave town. Like them or not, the middle class in this country owes itself to the existence of unions and union friendly administrations (gasp, Democrats!), from the 1930s to the 1960s. Now, all we have is Walmarts driving out family stores, the Chinese driving out American factories. What will be left? Even if it might give us more stuff, it is really worth it to have a nation whose most talented people are nothing more than idle investors? Isn't it the American way to provide for oneself? Shouldn't our nation be building things we can be proud of? We used to be liked for our know how, and now all we have left is aircraft carriers.

I wouldn't make immigration illegal. The problem is not OSHA or someone posing as OSHA, it's that we have a notion of creating a second class citizen based on their being born here. If someone wants to come to America, let them come. Have public schools so they can learn english, their children will be "americanized". This system has worked for 100 years, why abandon it just because white people may not be a majority anymore?

Being against Immigration is a classic bipartisan position. Some Republicans are against it because they want to preserve American culture (whatever that is), and some Democrats are against it because the unions are against it.

"The unions" are mixed on immigration issues and always have been.

That's just disgusting. Unreal.

Do you really think it was that "thoughtlessly"?

You are complaining? Bush didn't give a crap about OSHA. Now at least he's sending people to impersonate OSHA agents. The next thing you know, they may actually send REAL OSHA agents.

Do you really think it was that "thoughtlessly"?

I think so. The ICE agents obviously don't care whether workers live or die-neither illegal immigrants, nor anybody else who might get hurt because their coworkers skipped safety training.

I doubt ICE was in on a conspiracy to scare illegal immigrants away from safety training. (I mean, you never can tell with this bunch, but even so...)

Can't we pay more attention to comments written in earnest than the ravings of a troll?

Eli: You have a point. The"mixed feelings" you refer to were excoriation from left-leaning rank and file, myself among them, that fair concerns for labor were more than a little tinged with bigoted rhetoric. That said, an open border policy is, in my view, too likely to be the "free trade" sort, wherein the use of Hispanic immigrants as cheap labor inputs would simply be legitimized.
Stork: Glad you came around on unions. Your point on IT workers was prescient, too. It's been my experience as a rank/file unionist and someone living at ground zero of the self-styled "New Economy" that info workers will be the last to get real about what capital has in mind. Those twits identify so much with the boss, I'm surprised they didn't agitate for a complete repeal of the National Labor Relations Act. They were probably too busy working and planning what to do at the next Burning Man.

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