Labor Advocates Lament Lack of Protections in New Foreign-Worker Visas

July 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

SACRAMENTO – Criticism is coming in from worker’s-rights groups on the Trump administration’s announcement Monday that it will allow an additional 15,000 foreign workers to get visas.

The Department of Homeland Security will grant the extra H-2B visas for guest workers in the tourism, landscaping, construction, seafood and other seasonal industries – but not in agriculture, which uses a different visa program.

Daniel Costa, director of Immigration Law and Policy Research at the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank, says the program ought to be reformed to protect workers from abuse, not expanded.

The way the program is set up, it ties workers to one employer,” he says. “So if they leave that job or if they get fired, they basically lose that visa status and become deportable. And so it gives employers a lot of power over workers.”

The Trump administration says it simply is trying to accommodate requests from employers who are desperate for laborers. The current limit for H-2B visas is 66,000 – so this will bring that number up to 81,000.

In a recent report, Costa found there is no nationwide shortage of workers in those fields. In fact, unemployment has been high and wages have been flat in these types of jobs for more than a decade.

He argues that expanding the cap on visas will hurt conditions for guest workers and American citizens alike.

“U.S. workers have to compete with workers who are exploitable and can be legally underpaid under the terms of the H-2B program,” he adds. “And so that puts downward pressure on the wages and the working conditions of the U.S. workers who are in those same jobs.”

The report suggests that companies experiencing a local labor shortage do more to recruit from out of state and raise wages and benefits to attract more applicants. The expansion was approved a few months ago as a rider to a must-pass omnibus spending bill.

May Day Rallies to Focus on Worker and Immigrant Rights

April 30, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

Thousands of people are expected to take to the streets of downtown Los Angeles tomorrow for annual May Day marches supporting rights for workers and immigrants, with an emphasis on pushing for a $15 minimum wage and implementation of President Barack Obama’s executive orders on immigration.

The rallies and marches are expected to make life difficult for afternoon commuters in downtown Los Angeles, with street closures planned throughout the area to accommodate what are expected to be massive crowds. In an annual theme, police are urging motorists to avoid the area if at all possible and plan alternate routes.

A pair of marches are planned downtown, with participants expected to begin rallying at 3 p.m. and marching at 4 p.m.:

— Participants in the International Workers March will gather at Olympic Boulevard and Broadway, then march north on Broadway to Grand Park at Broadway and First Street.

— Participants in the Full Rights March will gather at Cesar Chavez Avenue and Broadway, march east on Cesar Chavez, south on Main Street, east on Aliso Street, south on Alameda Street then west on Temple Street, again ending at Grand Park.

The theme of the Full Rights March is “On May Day, No Justice Delayed,” pushing for an increased minimum wage, implementation of Obama’s orders to protect millions of immigrants from deportation and an end to police violence.

“It is our duty as a labor movement to fight for a living wage and enforcement so that working families have a chance to thrive,” said Rusty Hicks, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. “The time is now to raise the wage for hundreds of thousands of working Angelenos.”

Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, added that “justice has been denied to millions who await their chance at the American Dream.”

“Justice has been denied to millions who work hard and earn barely enough to survive,” she said. “Justice has been denied to millions whose dignity and respect have been trampled by law enforcement agencies. Enough is enough and our presence on May Day is the exclamation point in our demands.”

The Los Angeles City Council is debating a proposal to raise the minimum wage from $9 an hour to $13.25 an hour by 2017, to $15.25 an hour by 2019, and higher levels in subsequent years based on the Consumer Price Index.

Supporters of the wage hike proposal say it will lift hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers out of poverty and that businesses are capable of absorbing the increased costs, while critics of the plan say it would drive businesses out of the city and slow job growth.

Los Angeles County officials are also conducting studies on a possible hike in the minimum wage.

On the immigration front, millions of immigrants are awaiting the outcome of federal litigation over Obama’s “deferred action” orders, which have been put on hold by a judge in Texas. Opponents of the orders — most notably Republicans in Congress — contend Obama overstepped his authority in issuing the orders.

Martha Arevalo, executive director of the Central American Resource Center in Los Angeles, said her organization is working to help immigrants take advantage of the programs, if they are implemented.

“On May 1, we will come together with our partners to give the community reliable, up-to-date information on what the programs do and don’t do, and our legal and organizing staff will be there to answer questions from the public,” Arevalo said.

California Workers’ Comp Law Gets Criticism, Praise at Senate Hearing

April 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

March 26, 2015, 5:01 p.m

An architect of California’s recent workers’ comp reform testified Wednesday that the law was being misused by insurers and that the system may need to be streamlined to make it fairer for injured workers.

In remarks before a senate committee, Angie Wei of the California Labor Federation said the state needs to crack down on insurers using the law as an excuse to deny medical care and eliminate some of the layers of medical review that give employers and insurers multiple chances to overrule workers’ doctors.

Several reforms of the state’s workers’ comp system over the years have given insurers more control over workers’ medical treatments, she said.

Insurers can steer workers to certain doctors by setting up medical provider networks. But if they don’t agree with these doctors’ recommendations, they can pick outside doctors to review them, Wei said. Then, under a system set up by the new law, if injured workers challenge the decisions of the outside doctors, the disputes are sent for a final review by an anonymous doctor picked by a state contractor. These reviews have upheld nearly all the insurers’ medical care denials.

“Why should the employers and insurers get another bite at the apple that increases friction and drives up costs and delays for everybody?” asked Wei, who negotiated the law with business representatives.

Wei’s comments came as part of the California senate’s first oversight hearing on the contentious 2012 workers’ comp law. The legislation sought to restore some benefits that had been severely cut years before and to speed up the system by moving decisions over medical disputes from judges to doctors. Costs would be controlled by reducing infighting and waste.

But earlier this month, ProPublica and NPR reported that some insurers were using the new law to reassess medical care that had been approved years before. In one case, a paralyzed warehouse manager had his home health care terminated, leaving him for hours at a time with no one to help him.

The investigation by ProPublica and NPR found that California is one of more than 30 states since 2003 that have cut benefits, created hurdles to getting medical care, or made it harder to qualify for workers’ comp.

During the hearing before the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee, testimony about the law’s impact fell largely along expected lines. Insurer representatives said the law is working as intended. Employers complained that administrative costs are still too high. Workers’ lawyers said the new medical reviews were denying injured workers vital care.

But some testimony highlighted unexpected ramifications of the law. Dr. Brendan Morley, a pain specialist who heads the California Society of In dustrial Medicine and Surgery2014an organization of physicians who treat injured workers2014said doctors have become increasingly frustrated as their recommended treatments are rejected during the review process.

“Not all reform is good reform, and there can be unintended consequences,” he said, citing ProPublica and NPR’s investigation. “This is driving a lot of good physicians out of the workers’ comp system.”

State officials and other hearing witnesses defended the law as a necessary fix to a system that had become dysfunctional and expensive.

“It is not perfect, but it is certainly better than it was before,” said Christine Baker, director of the state’s Department of Industrial Relations, which oversees workers’ comp.

Last week, in response to our story, the workers’ comp agency warned insurance companies not to use the new law to deny approved home health care. It has also launched an audit of the insurer that removed the paralyzed worker’s aide.

Data presented at the hearing by the state and by the California Workers’ Compensation Institute, an insurance research group, showed that most medical care is getting approved. But when disputes reach the final stage, the new medical reviewers are upholding insurance company denials about 90 percent of the time.

Alex Swedlow of the research institute said that means doctors hired by the insurers “got it right.” He added that most of the review requests are coming from a small number of physicians.

But Bernardo de la Torre, an attorney for injured workers, said the data distorts the picture because the overwhelming majority of claims involve minor injuries, which involve routine, inexpensive treatment. He said the claims that often end up in disputes involve the most serious2014and typically more costly2014injuries.

The data, he said, proves the new review process is merely a “rubber stamp” for insurer decisions.

Wei said that while nearly every other player in workers’ comp took a hit during the recent reform, insurers were left unscathed.

“I think it’s time,” she said, “to really zone in on the insurance company industry and to understand what it is that they’re doing to affect the plight of injured workers.”

NPR correspondent Howard Berkes contributed to this report.

Clarification, March 27, 2015: An earlier version of this story may have implied that Alex Swedlow of the California Workers’ Compensation Institute said insurers were making medical decisions. Those decisions were made by doctors hired by the insurers.

Related coverage: Read about the demolition of workers’ compensation and how what your limbs are worth depends on where you work. For more, see the full investigation.

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JPMorgan Chase Sued for ‘Violating’ HIV Positive Worker’s Rights

January 8, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A lawsuit filed last week in Los Angeles Superior Court accuses JPMorgan Chase & Co. of violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) in its treatment of a former employee who is HIV positive.

According to MALDEF, the financial institution unlawfully discriminated against their client, former Vice President of Community Development Banking, Jesus Leon.

“For a large and sophisticated corporate entity like Chase to treat an employee with a serious disability so cavalierly is simply inexcusable in this day and age,” stated Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel in a news release. “We should expect our largest employers to act with greater sensitivity to moral and legal obligation.”

According to MALDEF, Leon, a Chase employee since June 2010, was “forced to resign because Chase failed to accommodate his condition and to engage in the legally-required interactive process to determine how to accommodate him,” including adjusting his work schedule as ordered by his physician in July 2012.

The lawsuit claims Chase’s actions exacerbated Leon’s medical condition.

ACA and FEHA require employers to engage in a “good-faith” process to explore how to reasonably accommodate the disabled employee, which Chase failed to do, according to MALDEF’s statement.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

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