Teamsters Joint Council 7 spoke out at a hearing in March on the abuse of immigrant workers by California businesses. The hearing, called for by Assemblymember Roger Hernández, Chair of the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee, included testimony from immigrant workers at the Marquez Brothers Cheese Factory in Hanford and the warehouse, car wash and recycling industries.
“All immigrants should be treated with respect, but that is not what is happening in our state,” said Ashley Alvarado, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 601 and the Teamsters Cannery Council, which represents more than 15,000 primarily Latino workers in the industry. “Employees should be protected against harassment from employers, but even today, in this very room, employers feel that they can intimidate their employees.”
Committee members and witnesses had observed that several attorneys representing Marquez Brothers, a company whose employees voted for Teamster representation with Local 517 in 2012, were present in the hearing room.
In a stunning rebuke of the company, Hernández vowed to subpoena Marquez Brothers’ CEO Gustavo Marquez and any other company executives who retaliated against workers who attended the hearing. He also clarified that the sole reason for the hearing was to unearth employer misdeeds and seek solutions, primarily through a legislative bill, AB 263, which he introduced. “AB 263 will protect immigrant workers against retaliation in the workforce,” Hernández said. “This bill will ensure that many of the hard-working individuals in this state are properly protected, by defending basic workers rights.”
Hernández also assured the workers who participated in the hearing that he would keep watch on the actions of the companies and they would act upon hearing of any mistreatment.
Marquez Brothers responded to the scrutiny by doubling down on their anti-worker campaign. Within two weeks of the hearing, they fired a union supporter.
As a result, Hernández drove three hours from his home in Los Angeles to join workers and Teamster representatives in Hanford to announce a formal investigation into the worker firing and the conduct of Marquez Brothers management.
“My bill aims to protect all those hard working individuals, regardless of their legal status in this country, against harmful abuses by employers. This is one reason why we need a strong comprehensive immigration reform.”
At presstime, the Senate has just released a bipartisan proposal for comprehensive immigration reform. Labor and immigration rights advocates are currently sifting through the 844-page document to assess whether it offers the rights and protections that immigrant workers deserve.
“Our mission is immigration reform, which includes a pathway to citizenship,” said Ron Herrera, an IBT Trustee, at a February labor rally in Las Vegas.
IBT General President Jim Hoffa agrees. “We have seen far too many employers threaten with deportation workers who speak out for just treatment on the job,” he said in a statement last January in response to Pres. Obama’s call for immigration reform.
Several Joint Council 7 Locals are joining in the fight for a path to citizenship for immigrants, many of whom are hard-working union members.
Salinas-based Local 890 has helped organize Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) workshops in Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Benito counties, alongside student organizations, non-profits and immigrant advocacy groups. This training is designed to help undocumented immigrant youth, many with parents who came to the U.S. illegally, apply for work and school permits.
Over the years, the Local has heard horror stories about workers who pay thousands of dollars to “immigration experts” to fill out simple immigration or visa forms, only to end up with incorrect forms or unreliable advice. As a result, the Local has been working to provide safe, dependable advice to members whose legal status in the U.S. is vulnerable.
“Commonsense immigration reform is a key priority for the labor movement” is what Congressman Jeff Denham heard from more than 2,000 immigration reform and labor activists at two town hall meetings held in his district in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties in March.
In a show of solidarity, Teamsters Local 386 members marched alongside immigration reform activists on April 6th. “The goal for labor is to make sure all union members are treated with dignity and respect on and off the job,” said former Secretary-Treasurer Gaylord Phillips, who has recently been named President of the North Valley Central Labor Council.