Unions denounce TPS decision/recommendations

Two unions criticized decisions by the US government that threaten to overturn the lives of tens of thousands of immigrant workers who had been granted temporary protected status (TPS).

On Friday, November 3, the US State Department recommended that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) end TPS for immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras and Nicaragua.

On Monday, November 6, DHS ended TPS to 5300 people from Nicaragua and postponed a final decision on the fate of 86,000 Hondurans, leaving them in a kind of legal limbo.

Maria Elena Durazo, general vice president of UNITE HERE, whose membership includes thousands of TPS recipients, many of whom work in the hospitality industry, called DHS’ decision “inhumane.”

Rocio Sáenz, SEIU executive vice president, said that the State Department’s recommendation was a result of “the anti-immigrant animus that has now infected the Trump Administration top to bottom.”

For decades, the US government has granted temporary protected status to people fleeing violence, political repression, or the aftermath of natural disasters in their home countries.

The US has designated 12 countries whose immigrants are eligible for TPS: El Salvador, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Liberia, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan (whose TPS status terminates November 2018), Syria, and Yemen.

Currently there are about 435,000 people living in the US who have been granted TPS.

Granting TPS to immigrants means that they can live and work in the US without fear of deportation, and many TPS immigrants have done so for decades.

The US government regularly determines whether to extend TPS status to each designated country. Until recently, TPS extensions have been routine.

But on November 6, DHS decided to end Nicaragua’s TPS designation and gave Nicaraguan TPS recipients until January 2019 to leave the US.

DHS temporarily extended TPS for people from Honduras to July 2018, but according to Reuters, the agency said their TPS “could then be terminated,” leaving 86,000 people from Honduras with an uncertain future.

UNITE HERE said that DHS’ decision on Nicaragua and Honduras “could have a devastating impact on hundreds of thousands of families and the US economy.”

“TPS recipients, like the thousands that our union represent, are dedicated and longtime employees, many of whom have been at their jobs for decades,” said Durazo.

“Because of the astounding cruelty and foolhardiness of Donald Trump and the Department of Homeland Security, . . . tens of thousands of lives could be ruined with this TPS termination,” continued Durazo, architect of the union’s national immigration campaign. “Ending TPS for Nicaraguan recipients or any others will forcibly tear apart American families, taking TPS recipients who have lived in the US for over twenty years from their American-born children, from their jobs, and from their homes.”

Sáenz said that the State Department’s recommendation to end TPS for people from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, and Nicaragua has to be seen as a reflection of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant ideology

“Given the conditions in the affected countries, the State Department recommendation can only be understood in the context of politicization and anti-immigrant animus that has now infected the Trump administration top to bottom,” said Sáenz. “The TPS recipients whose future is at stake are long-term residents who have been living and working here legally for many years, working in stable jobs, paying taxes, supporting families, and otherwise contributing to their communities. They have more than 270,000 US citizen children and thousands of US citizen grandchildren.”

UNITE HERE said that people who fear that their lives could be turned upside down, should not give up hope.

The union said that it is planning a national political campaign to get Congress to protect the TPS status of people.

“The onus falls now on Congress to take action to save TPS to protect Nicaraguan recipients as well as recipients from Honduras, Haiti, and seven other countries,” said the union.

“UNITE HERE has run one of the most high-profile TPS campaigns in the immigration community over the past year,” stated the union. . . “And we will not end that work now. We will continue advocating for TPS extensions for Nicaragua and comprehensive pathways to citizenship for all immigrants in the upcoming budget fight and beyond.”

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Union members bash tax cuts for the wealthy paid for with cuts to Medicaid and Medicare

Members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) criticized the budget resolution recently passed by the US Senate.

The budget resolution is a blueprint for federal spending and revenue collection for the next ten years and lays out the funding priorities of the Senate.

Its passage is also one of the preliminary steps that Republicans need to take in order to pass their new tax bill that reduces taxes by at least $1.5 trillion, the lion’s share of which will go to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.

Nearly all of these tax cuts for the wealthy will be paid for by cuts to Medicaid and Medicare.

The senate budget resolutions cuts funding for Medicaid by $1 trillion over ten years and Medicare by $470 billion over the same period.

“The cuts make me angry and sad because they will hurt so many people, including my own family, all just to give tax breaks to the wealthiest one percent,” said Josh Kunkle, a Pittsburgh security officer and 32BJ SEIU member.

SEIU member Carlita Adamy of Syracuse, New York said that unions members will fight these proposed cuts every step of the way.

“We beat them back when they tried to cut health insurance from millions of people, and we won’t let it happen this time either, the health of our residents and our families is too important,” said Adamy, a nursing home worker and member of 1199 SEIU.

A report by Democratic staff members of the Senate Budget Committee says that “the Republican budget is a massive transfer of wealth from working families, the elderly, children, the sick, and the poor to the top 1 percent.”

According to the report, 80 percent of the benefits of the tax plan that Republicans hope to enact will go to the top 1 percent of income earners.

In addition to slashing nearly $1.5 trillion in Medicaid and Medicare funding, the Republican budget would raise taxes on 30 percent of Americans with annual incomes between $50,000 and 150,000 by an average of $1000 by the end of the decade.

The report also notes that these massive breaks for the rich come at time of extreme income inequality in the US.

“Today, the United States has more wealth and income inequality than at any time since the 1920s,” states the report. “The top 0.1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. . . Further, since the Wall Street crash, 52 percent of all new income has gone to the top 1 percent.”

In addition to slashing Medicare and Medicaid, the Senate budget resolution includes funding cuts for

  • housing assistance for one million families
  • heating assistance for seniors, disabled people, and families with children
  • nutrition assistance to families enrolled in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, and
  • the head start program.

The Republican budget resolution also reduces transportation funding by $200 million.

The House of Representatives earlier in October passed its own budget resolution similar to the Senate’s.

There are some differences, however, and the house, which is also controlled by Republicans has a choice: accept the Senate budget resolution as is or request a conference committee with senators to resolve the differences.

Once an agreed upon budget resolution passes both houses then committees in both houses will begin to take steps to pass a new tax bill.

SEIU and at least one other union, the Communication Workers of America (CWA), are planning on mobilizing members to oppose the proposed cuts and the tax breaks for the wealthy that the cuts will fund.

In a message to CWA members, the union asked, “Should working people pay for tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans?”

CWA also invited members to participate in a town hall phone call on October 26 to hear how the Republican plan will affect working people.

“It’s really important that working people speak up and keep the pressure on Congress for real tax reform–not more breaks for the 1 percent,” said the CWA’s message to members.

Union joins call for Puerto Rico aid and debt relief

Members of SEIU Local 32BJ on October 4 joined a demonstration at the White House calling for more aid to hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico and the elimination of Puerto Rico’s $72 billion public debt.

“It’s immoral and Un-American to demand that Puerto Rican families first pay back the banks before they can rebuild their homes, hospitals, schools and roads,” said Jaime Contreras, 32BJ vice president. “Congress and the Trump Administration must act now to prevent an already growing crisis from turning into a full-blown tragedy.”

The protest at the White House was part of a nationwide Rebuild Puerto Rico Day of Action called by Vamos4PR, a network of labor, community, cultural, and human rights groups fighting a fair economy for all Puerto Ricans.

Rebuild Puerto Rico demonstrations took place in 13 cities across the US.

SEIU members joined another Rebuild Puerto Rico action in Chicago.

This one took place outside of the Chicago headquarters of Merrill Lynch, a subsidiary of Bank of America. Merrill Lynch-Bank of America is one of the five largest underwriters of Puerto Rico’s public debt.

In 2015, Merrill Lynch-Bank of America was one of four banks that charged Puerto Rico $28.1 million in underwriting fees on $3.5 billion worth on bonds issued by the island .0commonwealth.

Speaking at the Chicago rally, Chicago Alderman Roberto Maldonado criticized Merrill Lynch for taking money out of Puerto Rico without giving anything back.

“Merrill Lynch should be sending goods and services and money to Puerto Rico instead of taking what little money we have,” said Maldonado.

While Merrill Lynch and other financial institutions were profiting from the sale of Puerto Rican bonds, the commonwealth was suffering through a decade-long recession.

The government borrowed money to keep the recession from getting worse, but by 2016, it was drowning in debt that it couldn’t repay.

The US government responded by creating the Financial Oversight Board that dictated fiscal policy to the island, including more austerity for the people of Puerto Rico.

Suffering from the effects of an interminable recession, austerity policies, and unsustainable debt, Puerto Rico in 2017 sought debt relief in bankruptcy court.

Three months after declaring bankruptcy, Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria, one of the worst hurricanes in US history.

The Category 5 hurricane made a desperate situation even worse.

A little more than two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit, 8800 Puerto Ricans were living in shelters, 95 percent of the island still had no power, only one hospital was operational, only 45 percent of the people had clean water, and the list goes on.

Given the pain that Puerto Ricans have suffered, you might have expected some compassion from its creditors, but that was not the case.

“Even as families have been struggling to survive, and as a Category 5 hurricane hit the island, banks have been relentless, pushing in the courts to ensure they’re paid,” said SEIU in a statement of support for Puerto Rico and its people.

Without the elimination of Puerto Rico’s public debt, it’s hard to imagine how it can recover from the devastating storm.

The hurricane ravaged the island’s agriculture, one of the island’s economic sectors that has been performing well.

Caribbean Business reports that the hurricane destroyed high value crops such as coffee and fruit trees “some of which will take years to replace.”

USA Today reports that the island’s pharmaceutical industry was also hit hard by the storm.

Companies such as Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca have shut down their manufacturing facilities while they assess the storm’s damage, and it could be months before they are up and running again.

Dams, roads, bridges, electric power, telephone service, and other infrastructure that make commerce possible have been heavily damaged by the hurricane, and it will take years to rebuild this infrastructure.

Wall Street banks and hedge funds will likely take a hit if Puerto Rico’s debt is eliminated, but any losses that they may take are pennies on the dollar compared to the bailout they received when they were drowning in their own debt crisis.

When massive Wall Street debt threatened to sink some of the US’ largest financial institutions, they received trillions of dollars in federal debt relief.

Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade that financial institutions received $16 trillion in federal aid after the 2008 financial crisis threatened to put them out of business.

Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch (eventually bought by Bank of America), and Bank of America received $7.8 trillion in federal bail out money. That was nearly half of the public money that Wall Street received as a bailout.

Vamos4PR is demanding that during this time of crisis, the US government put the needs of people of Puerto Rico above the demands of its creditors.

“It’s simple,” said one post on the Vamos4PR Facebook page. ” The interests of the people of Puerto Rico MUST be put before the interests of Wall Street banks and hedge funds.”

Unions urge support for DACA as Trump considers ending it

As reports surfaced that President Trump is planning to upend the lives of hundreds of thousands of immigrants by terminating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order, two unions issued statements expressing outrage at Trump’s pending decision.

President Obama in 2012 issued an executive order, DACA, that created a way for people who immigrated to the US as children with their parents but lack official immigration documents to work, study, and live without fear of deportation.

More than 780,000 people have taken advantage of DACA since then.

Their jobs, their studies, their livelihoods, and their futures all are now at stake.

“Ending DACA would crush the hopes and dreams of nearly 800,000 young people who today are able to live here lawfully, go to school, work, and plan for their future. Suddenly, they would become deportable to lands they may barely remember,” said Rocio Sáenz international executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). “This is a cruel and counterproductive move driven by a hateful, anti-immigrant, and white supremacist agenda.”

“At a time when the words and actions of this administration have encouraged white supremacists and others who foment racial hatred and division, targeting these law abiding young people who work, study, and have become valuable members of our diverse nation, would send a dreadful message to our nation,” said Deborah Burger, co-chair of National Nurses United (NNU).

President Trump’s imminent decision to overturn DACA comes as a result of a September 5 deadline imposed on him by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and 9 other Republican state attorneys generals.

Back in June, Paxton and the other attorneys general sent a letter to US Attorney General Jeff Sessions informing him that they would file a lawsuit to overturn DACA unless President Trump terminates it by September 5.

Filing the suit would temporarily suspend DACA until a court rules on it.

Hundreds of thousands of people who came to the US as children with their parents have used DACA to build lives and contribute to the well being of their communities.

Sáenz said that the fact that many of these hard working people could be harassed and deported is a personal issue for him and other SEIU members.

“Many of our friends and family members are today able to live, work and contribute to our country because of DACA,” said Sáenz. “Together, we stand united in the face of white supremacy and hateful attacks against our communities and vow to stand up against Trump’s racist mass deportation efforts and fight for social, economic and racial justice.”

Burger said that rescinding DACA would intensify the wounds of racism inflamed by the recent events in Charlottesville.

“After Charlottesville, the message of terminating DACA could not be worse,” said Burger. “Millions of families in our nation have already been traumatized by the escalation of deportations of peaceful, law abiding undocumented immigrants. We see more and more people, who work and pay taxes, fearful of getting the health care they need when they are sick, or interacting with other components of civil society. That is wrong and immoral.”

Burger said that instead of threatening those who have benefited from DACA, Trump should work for “a comprehensive federal program of humane immigration reform, premised on a path to citizenship for those without violent criminal records who reside in the US, and an end to arbitrary raids and deportations of non-violent immigrants.”

Unions in Texas have also joined in the fight to save DACA.

On August 15, demonstrators gathered in front of Paxton’s office at the state capital complex in Austin to protest his threat to sue the government in order to end DACA.

Six of the protesters conducted a sit-in at the office and were arrested.

Those arrested included Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin (the Austin teachers union), Montserrat Garibay, vice president of Education Austin, and Patrick Harvey of the Texas State Teachers Association.

“Educators deal with so many students, some who are documented, some who are undocumented,” said Zarifis to the Austin American Statesman explaining why union educators were supporting DACA. “A lot of kids need support, and many of them need DACA. That program is the way to help kids, not to tear it away. Educators need to stand up and say so.”

Unions support Haitian immigrants; demand long-term protected status

Bowing to public pressure, the Trump administration extended the temporary protected status (TPS) of 58,000 Haitian workers living in the US, but only for six months.

The extension means that thousands of Haitians living and working in the US won’t face the threat of immediate deportations.

But they are still living in a precarious state because in six months the administration could change its mind.

Unions supporting the Haitian workers were glad to hear that an extension had been granted but criticized the short-term reprieve and vowed to continue to fight for a long-term solution.

“Forcing refugees from a devastated country to live on edge for six months is unacceptable,” said Jeremy Cruz-Haicken president of UNITE HERE Local 737 in Central Florida, where many Haitian immigrants live.  “These hardworking, tax-paying refugees support Central Florida’s economy, and they deserve long-term certainty. We’ll take these six months to fight for a long-term solution.”

Rocio Saenz, SEIU executive vice president, said that the extension was good but too short.

“Doing so for only six months – instead of the 18 month extensions that have been granted in the past – leaves Haitians with TPS in limbo, unable to plan their lives,” said Saenz.

He added that “the fight for another extension must begin immediately.”

The Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program allows the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to grant temporary protected status to immigrants from countries where conditions are unsafe for them to return–countries such as Haiti.

That protection was extended to Haitians living in the US in 2010 after an earthquake devastated their country and left millions homeless.

TPS allows Haitians to live and work in the US without fear of being deported.

Since coming to the US, many Haitians have found work in the food service, hospitality, health care, and tourist industries and some are members of unions including SEIU and UNITE HERE.

Their protected status was up for review, and DHS had to decide before July 22 whether to extend or deny TPS to Haitians.

Under the Obama administration, DHS had reviewed the protected status of Haitians three times and extended their TPS by 18 months each time.

But word had gotten out that the current DHS Secretary John Kelly was considering denying TPS to Haitians because he believed that conditions in Haiti are improving.

But that is hardly the case. After the earthquake, 1.5 million people were left homeless, and seven years after the earthquake tens of thousands remain homeless.

After the earthquake, the United Nations sent peacekeepers to Haiti to provide security, but the peacekeepers brought cholera, which caused an epidemic throughout the country sickening 800,000 and killing nearly 10,000. The epidemic continues unabated.

In 2016, a category 4 hurricane hit Haiti inflicting damages totaling $1.9 billion to a country that the World Bank calls the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world.

59 percent of Haitians live under the national poverty level, which is an income of $2.42 a day.

Lifting the protected status of Haitians would have meant that thousands of people living and working in the US would be deported to a land where they have neither homes nor jobs nor prospects.

That specter led to public protests and calls for the government to extend the protected status of Haitians.

A week before DHS announced its six month extension, 2000 people demonstrated at the Universal Studios Theme Park in Orlando, Florida where hundreds of Haitian workers are employed to demand that the Trump administration extend long-term protected status to Haitian refugees.

DHS also heard from humanitarian organizations, unions, business, and elected officials urging it to extend the protected status of Haitians.

The Haitian government told DHS that the current conditions in Haiti make it difficult for the country to absorb the return of so many people.

“The legal and policy case for extending TPS for Haitians was overwhelming,” said SEIU’s Saenz. “Haiti cannot safely handle so many returning deportees because it has not yet recovered from the devastating 2010 earthquake, last October’s hurricane, or a continuing deadly cholera epidemic that was first brought to the island by peacekeepers sent by the UN to help with earthquake reconstruction.”

After DHS announced that it was extending TPS to Haitians for another six months, there was some relief but there was also anxiety that in another six months they could find themselves deported to country where their safety is in peril.

The same holds true for other immigrants who have been granted TPS, which caused Saenz to call for a TPS extension for all who came from countries still recovering from natural disasters and wars.

Saenz also said that the US needs a more enlightened immigration policy.

“We call for a new level-headed approach to other decisions affecting immigrants,” said Saenz. “Stop wasting taxpayer resources to deport persons who have lived here for years who pose no danger to public safety. Restore America’s tradition as a place of refuge, and embrace the Constitution’s protection of religious minorities, including Muslims. And overall work to integrate immigrants to our nation instead of demonizing them and building walls.”

Fight for $15 victory in Minnesota; airport workers choose union

Workers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on November 14 became union members.

They joined SEIU Local 26 after a long organizing campaign that grew out of the national Fight for $15 Movement.

“This victory did not come easy, but it was worth the effort,” said Abdi Ali, a cart driver who has worked at the airport for eight years.”We are always there for each other, and now we will finally have a real voice at the airport.”

Ali and the 600 other new union members work for AirServ, a Delta Airline subcontractor. They are baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, cart drivers, wheel chair agents, and other service providers whose work is essential but whose wages are low.

Their organizing campaign began in 2013 at about the same time that low-wage workers across the US were striking and demonstrating for an increase in the national minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Airport workers in Minnesota took part in the early Fight for $15 street demonstrations. After the street actions were over, they took the fight for $15 to their jobs and began organizing a union.

AirServ workers and other low-wage Minneapolis-St. Paul airport workers demonstrated, picketed, petitioned, and testified for higher wages and better working conditions.

Their organized efforts won paid sick leave and a higher minimum wage for all airport workers. The new airport minimum wage was $10 an hour, $1 above the state’s minimum wage.

Those victories showed the power of collective action, but they fell short of the workers’ ultimate goal–a living wage and an organized voice on the job that could give them a say in determining the terms and conditions of their work.

So, the AirServ workers pressed ahead for union recognition. In June, the workers voted to strike unless the company recognized their union and took steps to improve working conditions.

The strike was averted when AirServ agreed to establish a process that would allow workers to decide whether they wanted to join a union without interference from the company.

But details about how workers would make this decision were left unclear.

For two months, AirServ and negotiators from Local 26 negotiated the details of a fair process.

In August, AirServ workers grew impatient and authorized another strike unless an agreement on a fair process could be reached.

Finally the union and the company agreed that the company would recognize the union if a majority of workers signed union representation cards and a neutral third-party verified the signatures.

In November after the signed authorization cards were verified, the company announced that it would recognize the union.

“I couldn’t be happier than I am today,” said Ali after hearing the news.

The union victory was especially important to Misrak Anbesse, an airplane cleaner and like most of the other AirServe workers is an immigrant from East Africa.

“Winning our union was a big step for us—and for everyone working to raise up people of color and immigrants in Minnesota,” said Anbesse.

“We’re all working together for a better life for our families,” she added.  “I know the community here in Minnesota will keep supporting us as we bargain a good contract and work to raise wages at the airport even more.”

Unions blast immigration ruling; vow to stand with immigrant workers

Two unions have condemned a ruling by a federal judge that temporarily halts implementation President Obama’s executive order on immigration reform.

In November President Obama issued an executive order giving 4 to 5 million immigrant workers living in the US without immigration documents an opportunity to come out of the shadows and live and work in the US with dignity and without fear.

Judge Andrew Hanen on February 16 issued a temporary injunction halting implementation of procedures that would allow immigrant workers to apply for work permits, which would give them legal status in the US and relieve them of the fear of being arrested and deported.

The procedures for applying for work permits were to become effective on February 18, but for now, those procedures are on hold.

UNITE HERE and SEIU both issued statements criticizing Judge Hanen’s ruling and said that they would continue working with immigrant workers to help them achieve fair treatment on their jobs.

They also said that they expected Judge Hanen’s decision to be reversed on appeal and that they would continue to help immigrants apply for work permits when the judge’s injunction is lifted.

Elana Durazo, a UNITE HERE vice president, said that hundreds of thousands of UNITE HERE members work in the hospitality industry and that immigrant workers are the backbone of the hospitality industry.

“They shouldn’t have to live or work in fear,” said Durazo.

Durazo pointed out that some employers use immigrant workers’ lack of legal status to prevent them from getting fair pay and good benefits.

As an example, Durazo pointed to Cristan Torres, a college cafeteria worker, who was fired for trying to organize a union.

Before Torres started standing up for better pay and better working conditions, his employer wasn’t concerned about whether he had proper immigration documents.

But after Torres became an open union supporter, his employer used his lack of immigration documents as an excuse for firing him.

UNITE HERE was able to get his job back and keep him from being deported.

“We’re here to stand with workers like Cristian and thousands more working in hospitality, who only want an opportunity to provide for themselves and their families,” said Durazo. “It’s time for out-of-touch, anti-immigrant politicians to end these political stunts and stop playing games with people’s lives.”

Rocio Saenz, an SEIU vice president, urged immigrants affected by Judge Hanen’s injunction to “continue to compile information and documents you will need (to apply for work permits).”

Saenz called the judge’s ruling a temporary disappointment rather than a setback and said that “the law is on the side of (President Obama).”

President Obama said that the Justice Department would appeal Judge Hanen’s injunction.

“This judge and his right-wing backers can’t bend the law to their personal will,” said Saenz. “They stand on the wrong side of history and justice. The law is on the side of the President, who has broad authority to determine immigration enforcement policy.”

Saenz called immigrant workers “a part of the greater American family” and was optimistic that justice for immigrant workers would prevail.

“Immigrant families are not the enemy,” said Saenz. “We are confident that justice will prevail as this case moves through the court system and that the relief granted by the president will take effect to the benefit of millions of families.”