UNITE HERE holds week of action to support immigrant workers

UNITE HERE announced that during the week of March 5-9 the union will launch a series of actions to support immigrant workers in danger of having their DACA or TPS protections revoked.

“With the fates of hundreds of thousands of DACA and TPS holders remaining uncertain, . . . UNITE HERE is running major internal member education campaigns for DACA holders and is organizing externally against Trump’s racist immigration policies,” said the union in a statement about this week’s activities.

DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is an executive order issued by President Obama. It allows immigrants who came to the US as children with their parents to work, study, and live without fear of deportation.

Last year, President Trump revoked DACA, and March 5 was supposed to be the day that DACA protections expired, but President’s Trump’s revocation has been suspended while courts review his action.

More than 800,000 people who have lived in the US most of their lives are protected by DACA.

“America has been my home since I immigrated here at 12 years ago,” said Celica Valdez, a UNITE HERE member from Monterey, California. “DACA allowed me to come out of the shadows and provide for my family. I’m a single mother, and my family depends on my union job as a hotel worker at Hyatt. If Trump wins with taking away my work authorization, my family would be destroyed.”

TPS, or Temporary Protected Status, has been in effect since 1990. It gives protected status to immigrants fleeing political violence, repression, war, or natural disasters.

It has allowed more than 300,000 immigrants who can’t live in safety in their own countries to do so in the US.

During the Trump administration 250,000 immigrant workers with TPS status from El Salvador, Haiti, and Nicaragua have had their TPS terminated and been ordered to leave the US by 2019.

UNITE HERE has 270,000 members, many of whom work in the hospitality industry. According to the union, tens of thousands of our members are immigrant workers, some of whom are affected by President Trump’s DACA and TPS decisions.

UNITE HERE on March 5 began its week of mobilization in Washington DC by joining SEIU, another union with a large contingent of immigrant members, in supporting immigrant rights activists, who demonstrated near the Capitol to demand that DACA protections be extended.

At the Capitol complex, 87 people were arrested for committing non-violent acts of civil disobedience.

The next day, UNITE HERE Local 23 members in Indianapolis, Indiana joined a demonstration in downtown Indianapolis demanding that the state’s two US senators–Joe Donnelly and Todd Young–support legislation that would make  DACA permanent.

The demonstration was organized by Faith in Indiana, a faith community action group that advocates for economic and racial justice

Speaking to the demonstrators, Rev. Steve Carlsen, dean of Christ Church Cathedral, an Indianapolis Episcopalian church, criticized Indiana’s two US senators, Joe Donnelly and Sen. Todd Hunter, for voting in favor of a budget that continues to fund the government’s “massive deportation machine.”

Demonstrators locked arms and formed a human chain through downtown Indianapolis connecting the local offices of Sen. Donnelly and Sen. Young.

Twenty-three people, including at least one member of Local 23, were arrested when they refused police orders to disperse.

In Honolulu, UNITE HERE Local 5 got  an early start on the union’s week of action by holding an immigrant citizenship application fair on March 3 and 4.

The union trained 150 union and community volunteers to help eligible immigrants to apply for citizenship.

“The historic citizenship action is one of the largest in UNITE HERE international’s history, and resulted in 10 times the citizenship applications than the next largest citizenship fair in Hawaii’s history,” reported the union.


UNITE HERE said that it plans other action this week.

UNITE HERE members will be lobbying Congress to support proposals that will extend DACA and TPS protections denied by the Trump administration and will be conducting internal organizing forums to educate members about the current status of DACA and TPS.

“This week will also see UNITE HERE affiliates in swing states such as Pennsylvania and Nevada and as far flung as Indiana to New Jersey mobilizing in-state for a range of activities,” said the union.


Summer of resistance against SB 4 gets off to a loud start in Austin

In Austin on Memorial Day, the summer of resistance got underway when more than 1000 opponents of a new racist, anti-immigrant law took over the state Capitol .

Earlier in the month, the Texas Legislature passed and Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law SB 4, which punishes sanctuary cities–those cities whose officials refuse to cooperate with the Trump administration’s intimidation and harassment of immigrant workers.

SB 4 goes into effect on September 1, and its opponents vow to spend the summer building resistance to the new law.

That resistance began enthusiastically on the last day of the state Legislature’s regular session when a coalition of groups including the Workers Defense Project, Education Austin, the local teachers union, Immigrants United, United We Dream, and University Leadership Initiative organized the anti-SB 4 demonstration at the Capitol.

In the morning, demonstrators gathered inside the Capitol around the building’s rotunda and began chanting resistance slogans such as “Aqui estamos, y no nos vamos,” (We’re here and we aren’t leaving).

Others went upstairs, occupied the three balconies that overlook the rotunda, and joined the chanting.

There were a number of union workers among the demonstrators including members of SEIU Justice for Janitors, UNITE HERE Local 23, CWA, and Education Austin. The Local labor council also supported the action.

While protesters gathered around the rotunda, another group of protesters went into the gallery overlooking the floor where the House of Representatives meet.

They filled the gallery and sat quietly as lawmakers wrapped up business on the final day of the regular legislative session.

But the quiet didn’t last.

When an anti-SB 4 banner was hung from the gallery railing, people in the gallery erupted in cheers and chants.

“We’re here to stay” and “See you in court,” they chanted as lawmakers looked up to see what was happening.

Capitol police removed the people with the banner, but as they did, more banners were unfurled, and the chants grew louder.

Finally, more police were called in and everyone was removed from the gallery.

As they marched out of the gallery, demonstrators raised their fists and were greeted noisily by supporters chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, SB 4 has got to go.”

After more chanting, demonstrators marched outside and gathered for a rally.

After the rally, they held a day of teach-ins and strategy planning for how to resist the implementation of SB 4.

SB 4 was passed and signed into law after Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick decided to retaliate against cities like Austin that chose to support its immigrant residents rather to cooperate with the US Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s aggressive round up of immigrants.

SB 4 allows the state to seek financial and other penalties against cities and local officials who don’t fully cooperate with ICE.

It also allows local police to inquire about a person’s citizenship or residency status after detaining that person even after a minor traffic stop or domestic violence call.

Opponents of the bill say that doing so will lead to racial profiling that will subject people of color to harassment and violation of their constitutional rights.

Beyond that, SB 4 will make our communities less safe, which is why police chiefs from Texas’ largest cities oppose the bill.

In an opinion piece appearing in the Dallas Morning News, Art Acevedo, Houston’s police chief, and David Pughes, Dallas’ interim police chief, said that SB 4 will drive a wedge between the police and immigrants making it more difficult for police officers to prevent crime and enforce the law.

SB 4 “will lead to distrust of police and less cooperation from members of the community. And it will foster the belief that people cannot seek assistance from police for fear of being subjected to an immigration status investigation,” write Acevedo and Pughes.

SB 4’s threat to public safety, the dangerous precedent it sets for punishing local officials that stand up for their residents, and the law’s mean-spirited nature led Austin’s city council to vote on May 16 to file suit to prevent implementation of SB 4.

The next day, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed suit to stop Austin’s suit.

After Paxton’s action, the cities of Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and El Paso, and the county of El Paso pledged to support Austin in its attempt to block SB 4.

Demonstrators at the Memorial Day No SB 4 action were glad that cities throughout Texas had joined the fight against SB 4, but they weren’t waiting for a court decision.

They promised, instead, a summer of actions like the one at the Capitol because as one sign held up from a Capitol window for people outside to see said, “No human being is illegal.”

California labor looks for ways to help immigrant union members

Representatives from 12 California labor councils met in San Francisco for an historic meeting on immigration. The meeting was hosted by the San Francisco Labor Council and the California AFL-CIO.

“In the context of ICE raids, stalled national immigration reform, the Supreme Court ‘non-ruling’ that has kept President Obama’s DAPA order on hold, as well the difficult process to obtain green cards and a path to citizenship, we thought we should gather to discuss how labor councils can support immigrant members of our affiliate unions with the difficulties they face,” said Tim Paulson, executive director of the San Francisco Labor Council.

Among other things, those attending the meeting heard how local unions were providing space in their union halls for immigrant centers, places were immigrants can go to get help on a wide range of issues.

In San Francisco, the local labor council and SEIU Local 87 have worked together to create the We Rise San Francisco Immigration Center, which is housed in Local 87’s union building.

Local 87 is a union of 3500 janitors who clean office buildings in downtown San Francisco. Many if not most of its members are immigrants.

The union has been negotiating a new contract with janitorial service companies.

Negotiations have not been going well, so Local 87 called for a week of action between July 25 and July 29.

During the week of action union members marched to and picketed buildings in the city’s financial district.

One of the excuses that the building service employers are using to avoid giving their workers a decent pay increase and preserving their health care benefits is that the owners and/or occupants of the building, which are mostly financial services and technology companies, are threatening to employ non-union companies that pay low wages with few benefits.

The week of action is aimed at exposing the greed of these companies that report billions of dollars in revenue but seek low ball deals for important services such a cleaning services. The money that they might save on these deals amounts to pocket change for them.

At the end of the week of action on Friday, members of the union voted on whether to authorize a strike.

Results of the vote have not been made public at the time of this writing.

Even though Local 87 has been involved in high stakes negotiating and may be facing a strike soon, it has continued to house the We Rise San Francisco Immigrant Center.

The center was opened in 2015 through a cooperative effort between the San Francisco Labor Council and Local 87. It is funded through a grant from the city of San Francisco.

“San Francisco would not be the innovative, diverse, and resilient city that it is without our strong immigrant community,” said San Francisco City Supervisor Katy Tang when the grant from the city was announced. “We must do everything we can to support new immigrants looking for new opportunities in our city, as well as long-time immigrant families seeking support and stability.”

At the We Rise center, staff who speak a number of different languages explain how people can become citizens, provide legal resources, help with job related issues, and provide information on other issues faced by immigrants. Staff members also help immigrants who have become citizens register to vote.

Paulson said that the California labor movement is leading the fight for social justice in a number of areas including health care, affordable housing, and labor project agreements that ensure decent wages and working conditions on construction projects. All are aimed at making life better for working people.

Immigration reform is key to these other reforms, which is why labor has become more active in supporting immigrant rights, said Paulson.

“Even with anti-worker court rulings and a Congress that refuses to fix our failed immigration system, the California labor movement will continue to protect immigrant workers who pay taxes, work hard and make America work,” he continued.