This Cesar Chavez Day, Immigrant Workers Fight Back Against Trump through Robust Organizing and Resistance
By Jessie Hahn, NILC labor and employment policy attorney
MARCH 31, 2017
March 31st is the birthday of Cesar Chavez, the American civil rights activist and labor organizer who cofounded the United Farm Workers with Dolores Huerta. In honor of Chavez’s legacy, we highlight some new forms of immigrant-worker organizing emerging in resistance to the Trump administration’s aggressive efforts to instill fear in immigrant communities.
We are already seeing how heightened immigration enforcement is making workers more vulnerable to abuse, as reports emerge about immigrant workers who are unwilling to collect back wages they’re owed due to fears of deportation. In a context where workplace deaths were already on the rise, the fear created by Trump’s aggressive deportation regime will make workers less likely to report safety and health violations on the job.
This, coupled with the lack of robust enforcement of federal labor protections, jeopardizes years of progress toward encouraging courageous workers to come forward to denounce labor law violations by protecting them from retaliation if they do. The Trump administration’s policies make the effective enforcement of state and local labor protections all the more critical.
In anticipation of more aggressive worksite immigration enforcement, immigrant workers and allied organizations are educating workers about their rights and preparing for worksite raids. In California, workers and their advocates are advancing state level legislation that would provide additional protections to workers during worksite immigration raids. Workers are also negotiating with their employers directly about responding to worksite immigration enforcement, regardless of whether they are covered by a union contract.
And in a new front for immigrant worker organizing, many employers have begun declaring themselves sanctuary workplaces, while churches are organizing to provide sanctuary to people targeted for enforcement.
While cases like that of DREAMer Daniela Vargas and several Vermont dairy workers, who were targeted for deportation due to their activism, spark outrage across the country, we know that ICE has a history of retaliatory enforcement against our communities. As momentum builds towards the massive “Day Without Immigrants” protest across the country on May 1st, we are reminded of Cesar Chavez’s words: “There is enough love and good will in our movement to give energy to our struggle and still have plenty left over to break down and change the climate of hate and fear around us.”