National Immigration Law Center Denounces Department of Labor’s Ongoing Failure to Enforce Employment Laws in the Gulf Coast
The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) shares the concerns regarding labor conditions in the Gulf Coast that are the subject of a letter sent today by Senator Edward Kennedy and Senator Mary Landrieu to Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao.
Over the past year, NILC supported the work of the New Orleans Worker Justice Coalition and Advancement Project, who anchored a comprehensive labor investigation that included over 700 interviews of New Orleanians locked out of the work force and new migrants locked into exploitation. The workers interviewed included many immigrants who were lured to the Gulf Coast with false promises of well-paying and safe jobs. Instead, these reconstruction workers have reported a litany of violations, including rampant underpayment and nonpayment of wages, egregious violations of health and safety standards, threats of retaliation against workers who assert their labor and employment rights, and increased harassment and racial profiling by police and immigration officials.
NILC, together with other national and local immigrant rights groups and labor organizations, has raised these concerns repeatedly with Department of Labor (DOL) officials. In particular, NILC has highlighted the need for additional permanent bilingual wage and hour investigators and more effective outreach strategies to expedite the processing of federal wage and hour claims in Louisiana and Mississippi. NILC has also emphasized the importance of ensuring that unscrupulous employers cannot evade their obligations under the Fair Labor Standards Act and other labor laws by calling the immigration authorities to have immigrant workers deported. When workers are placed in removal proceedings, DOL must ensure that the workers are paid the wages they are owed before they are removed from the U.S. Finally, we urge DOL to monitor the labor certifications it is approving for H-2B workers in the Gulf Coast, who are also being recruited to the area only to face exploitation, while New Orleanians are being denied these employment opportunities.
NILC urges DOL to take seriously the concerns outlined by Senators Kennedy and Landrieu and remains willing to assist DOL in promoting better enforcement of employment laws in the Gulf Coast.
For more information regarding labor conditions in the Gulf Coast, see And Injustice for All: Workers’ Lives in the Reconstruction of New Orleans, which was jointly published by NILC, the New Orleans Worker Justice Coalition, and Advancement Project.