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Study shows immigrant women subject to work place abuse and exploitation

Published: Sep. 16, 2014 at 2:59 AM MST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2018 at 4:22 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The city of Tucson's Immigrant Welcoming Task Force co-hosted a a forum discussing immigrant worker rights, along with Derechos Humanos and the Tucson Immigrant Worker's Project, on Monday night.

The forum included a presentation of "Out of the Shadows: Shedding light on working conditions of Immigrant women in Tucson", a report by the Bacon Immigration Law and Policy Program, and the Southwest Institute for Research on Women.

According to the summary of the 52-page report, everyday in Tucson homes and hotels are cleaned, food is prepared, and babies cared for. Researchers said 90 immigrant women took the survey.  82 percent were born in Mexico, 10 percent of them were born in Somalia, 58 percent of them had work permits, and majority of them said they suffered some type of work abuse, or were exploited by their employers.

Adelina Lopez,  a "Dreamer" who was brought to the United States at the age of five, said she worked for a Raspados shop and the lady hired her knowing she was undocumented.

"This lady said it's okay if I work for her, she said don't worry just come back tomorrow," said Lopez.

She added that the first month went well.  After that the lady stopped paying her wages.  Not only was she getting paid under the minimum wage, but she did $900 worth of labor and did not receive the money.

Finally after filing a report with the Immigrant Worker's project, the woman paid up.

Patricia Garcia, who now had a work visa said she was also underpaid, overworked and denied worker's compensation when she suffered a work place injury.

"I was working for a woman to do special events, things like weddings and Quinceneras," said Garcia.

She said she did everything from washing and ironing linens, to washing dishes, serving food, and cleaning the bathrooms.  Garcia said the woman did not pay her for all the hours worked.

Immigrants rights activists said they heard such stories everyday.

According to researchers at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law workers said employers had high expectations of them. Workers were pressured to perform quickly.

Hotel workers reported orders to clean each room in 15 minutes.  Tortilla factory workers were pressured to prepare more than 1,000 dough balls, or 18 trays of tortillas per hour.  Domestic workers who cleaned homes, and cared for infants or the elderly were expected to work around the clock, or be on call constantly, but they were not paid for the actual amount they worked.

Immigrant advocates encouraged workers to report any abuse and mis-treatment to Derechos Humanos or the Immigrant Worker's Project at the University of Arizona.

Shayna Kessler, a legal fellow with the Bacon Immigration Law and Policy Program said all immigrants were protected by U.S. law, and that no U.S. company or citizen could break or violate labor laws, even if they themselves chose to break the law and hire undocumented residents.

"When we're talking about the right to a minimum wage, the right to over-time, the right to be in a workplace free of discrimination, the right to worker's compensation, all of these protections apply to everyone regardless of status.  The reality is, in fact, the labor laws in this country and state apply universally to everybody regardless of immigration status," said Kessler.

The research included several policy changes and recommendations for state and local leaders to enforce.  These included creating a local ordinance to strengthen protection for all employees. pass a "domestic worker's bill of rights, increase funding for groups that worked with immigrant workers and educate them about their rights, and laws that would protect workers from "retaliation" by their employers if they complained about violations.

Representations from the city managers office were present at the meeting.

Advocates said they hoped to take their suggestions to Mayor and Council and discuss this farther, in the future.

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