Improving Job Quality and Opportunity for Latino, Immigrant and Low-Wage Workers

May 25, 2011

For eight years, Reynaldo and his sons remodeled houses in Virginia.  But last year, they were fired when Reynaldo fell from a roof and fractured his spine.  On top of not having health insurance, Reynaldo's employer told him not to look for a lawyer because it would cause him immigration problems.  Reynaldo's story and those of other Latino, immigrant, and low-wage workers can be found in a new collection of stories published by the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), We Needed the Work:  Latino Worker Voices in the New Economy

On the job, many Latinos have experienced dangerous workplaces, withheld wages, wage theft, and often work without any paid time off for when they or their family are ill. 

CLASP's Jodie Levin-Epstein joined NCLR yesterday morning on a panel discussion about Latinos' experiences in the workplace, which also featured Annette Bernhardt, Policy Co-Director, National Employment Law Project; Peg Seminario, Director, Safety and Health, AFL-CIO; and Portia Wu, Vice President, National Partnership for Women & Families. 

The panelists discussed improving enforcement of existing labor laws, as well as the need for better laws and policies that support workers, such as increasing the minimum wage and providing for paid leave and flexible workplaces. 

These policy changes have the backing of many Hispanic workers. A Baruch College survey also released yesterday finds that 95 percent of Hispanics surveyed in New York City support increasing the minimum wage, and 96 percent support requiring employers to give all workers at least five paid sick days per year. 

The panel also discussed immigration reform as a key policy goal to fully reform the low-wage labor market.  Comprehensive immigration reform may be a ways off, but the panelists agreed that state and local action on workplace policies can begin to improve working conditions for low-wage, immigrant workers.

Unfortunately, low wages, lack of paid sick days, dangerous jobs and wage theft are widespread and affect far too many low-wage workers across different races and ethnicities.  It's not just workers that suffer, either.  These problems harm families, communities, consumers, businesses, government and the economy as a whole.  It's a problem that affects all of us, and we need thoughtful, solid policy solutions to improve job quality and expand opportunity for all workers.

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