Small California city applauds its pro-immigrant Congresswoman

March 6, 2017 10:56 AM CST By Henry Millstein

MORGAN HILL, Calif.—On March 4, over 500 people packed the City Council chambers in Morgan Hill, a small city south of San Jose, for a town hall meeting with Democratic Representative Zoe Lofgren, a long-time supporter of immigrants’ rights.

Morgan Hill City Councilperson Larry Carr pointed out in introducing her that, to his knowledge, never had the city hall had so many people. Loud applause erupted when he said that Lofgren was the senior Democrat on the Congressional subcommittee on immigration and border security, and attendees repeatedly applauded as she detailed her progressive stands on immigration and other issues.

Though immigration was the announced focus of the meeting, questions from the audience touched on many issues of concern in the face of the Republican assault on pro-people policies. The first questions concerned the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA, popularly known as “Obamacare”). Lofgren responded that though the Republicans hold majorities in both houses of Congress, “the American people can give Republicans cold feet” about repealing the law, and she was met with vigorous applause when she declared, “I will stand up for the ACA” and again moments later when she indicated her support for “Medicare for all,” a single-payer health care system such as exists in all other industrialized nations. She urged her constituents to call the White House and the Speaker of the House to register their support for healthcare for all.

The next round of questions focused on immigration, an issue on which Lofgren has long been active, starting her years as an immigration attorney. The audience again broke out in applause when she stated her support for the refusal of local authorities in many parts of California and elsewhere to function as “immigration police,” and yet again when an audience member posed the question, “How do we get ICE out of Morgan Hill?” Lofgren gave a moving description of seeing mothers and children in deteriorated immigration detention facilities that had only one doctor for over a thousand detainees, mentioning a psychologist’s report that children growing up in such conditions would suffer permanent damage. “This is not the America I know,” Lofgren declared to renewed applause, calling on the public to take responsibility for alleviating this situation.

In response to a question about Medicare, Lofgren denounced House Speaker Paul Ryan’s plan to replace Medicare with a voucher system, pledging that Democrats in Congress would “fight tooth and nail to keep Medicare alive” and expressing confidence that “we can win that fight” but that “the American public needs to stand up and say no” to Republican plans to destroy popular programs.

Other questions concerned the high cost of college education, Republican reluctance to fund public transportation, hate crimes and Islamophobia, and election and voters’ rights. On the latter question, Lofgren—to more applause—announced that she had introduced a bill to require all states to have a non-partisan system of establishing election districts such as exists in California, to prevent the gerrymandering that has helped put both the House of Representatives and many state legislatures into Republican hands.

Lofgren earned yet more applause when, in response to a question about how to stop “right to work (for less)” legislation recently introduced in Congress, she pledged to do all she could to oppose such efforts, declaring “I grew up in a union family” and pointing out that without unions there would be no weekends.

As the meeting concluded, Lofgren emphasized that, while she could not always defeat conservative attacks, there were two things that she—and everyone—could do: “I can speak and I can vote,” urging all present to do the same, particularly in regard to the 2018 congressional elections.

This government-funded town hall was officially “non-partisan” and “non-political,” and when at its end Lofgren asked whether the audience wanted a follow-up political meeting funded by her campaign, virtually everyone present raised their hands.

Via People’s World

Battle against wage theft heats up in Santa Clara County

june 9 2014

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Low-wage hourly employees battling wage theft at Ma Laboratories , a distributor of high-tech products headquartered here, received strong support at a rally June 6. The event was organized by the Santa Clara Wage Theft Coalition outside the old Santa Clara County Courthouse.

Wage theft, particularly from low-wage, immigrant workers, is a national epidemic. Attorney Ruth Silver Taube, a spokesperson for the coalition, reported that she has worked with hundreds of victims in the local area, while nationwide over two-thirds of low-wage workers suffer some form of wage-related violation every week.

Wage theft includes not only failure to page wages due but also refusal to pay for legally-mandated paid meal and rest periods and harassment and threats against workers who speak out against abuses or go to government agencies for redress.

The thieving doesn’t stop even when workers receive a favorable judgment from government labor commissions. Silver Taube pointed out that workers generally succeed in collecting only a quarter of the settlement money mandated by the commissions.

Santa Clara County, also known as Silicon Valley, is a national hub of the high-tech industry. It also receives the highest rate of wage-theft complaints in California.

Michael Tayag of the Pilipino Association of Workers and Immigrants (PAWIS), a coalition member, said that many Filipinos are forced by poverty to emigrate from their homeland, only to suffer mistreatment as workers in the United States. The majority of PAWIS members, he reported, have suffered wage theft and other abuses such as deprivation of meal and even bathroom breaks. Because their families are dependent on their low-wage jobs, they are very vulnerable to retaliation by employers.

Worker members of PAWIS have nonetheless stood up and filed complaints with the local labor commission and have been awarded over $100,000 in settlements. Collecting the money, however, is another matter. Tayag noted that one worker who was awarded $6,000 has been able to collect only $100 of what he is owed.

Several workers from Ma Labs spoke eloquently of the abuses they have suffered. One, who worked for the Labs for 11 years, spoke of being allowed no rest breaks  and having pay deducted for lunch breaks that he was not allowed to take. When he filed a complaint with the county labor commission, the company sent him home and then fired him. Other abuses noted in a class action complaint filed on behalf of the workers include encouraging employees to begin work before their scheduled time but not paying them for the extra work, forcing hourly employees to work “off-the-clock,” and maintaining a manual recordkeeping system alongside the electronic one that allows Payroll Department agents to manually override electronic records of employee hours.

Coalition legal assistant Evelyn Ramirez spoke for workers who could not appear publicly because of concern over their immigration status – a frequent barrier to victimized workers seeking legal redress. One told of how, when he went for a bathroom break, he would be followed by supervisors or paged repeatedly on the PA system. Another reported that he was made to work 16 hours straight without receiving overtime pay.

The Santa Clara Wage Theft Coalition was organized last year to fight these abuses. It includes a number of immigrant and low-wage workers’ organizations and Working Partnerships USA, which is affiliated with the South Bay Labor Council. The group has already succeeded in introducing in the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors an anti-wage-theft measure that would, among other things, suspend permits of employers committing repeated wage-theft violations and provide for liens on companies to pay workers’ wages and penalties due them. County Supervisor David Cortese, now a labor-backed candidate for mayor of San Jose, is taking the lead on this measure. A similar measure is being developed for the San Jose City Council.

The coalition is planning further actions, and the supporters at the courthouse appeared ready to follow Silver Taube’s closing call: “Join us in our struggle to end wage theft in our county and in our country!”

Members of the Pilipino Association of Workers and Immigrants voice their support for the wage theft campaign:

Via People’s World