Unions members join suit to save TPS

Labor organizations have joined immigrant rights activists in challenging the Trump administration’s decision to revoke temporary protected status (TPS) of immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan.

UNITE HERE, the National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON), and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) joined a coalition of groups supporting ten TPS holders and five children of TPS holders who on March 12 filed suit in a San Francisco federal court to overturn the Trump administration’s TPS decisions.

One of the plaintiffs is Wilna Destin, a Haitian immigrant and a UNITE HERE organizer in Orlando, Florida.

“For my daughters, America is all they’ve known,” said Destin, explaining why she joined the lawsuit. “Without legal intervention to stop the expiration of Haitian TPS, my daughters will be forced to either lose their mother to Trump or to sacrifice their entire lives and educational opportunities to move to an underdeveloped country that cannot absorb a wave of thousands of deportations. I am afraid of becoming a target by standing up to Donald Trump, but my daughter and I chose to do this to save our family.”

One of Destin’s daughters is also a plaintiff.

TPS, which was authorized by legislation passed in 1990, allows immigrants fleeing from political violence, war, repression, or natural disasters to live and work in the US without fear of deportation.

Since TPS became law, TPS holders have routinely had their status reaffirmed, but that has changed under the Trump regime, which in little more than a year has revoked TPS for 200,000 immigrants and their families.

“With the stroke of a pen, this administration upended the lives of hundreds of thousands of people lawfully residing in the United States for years and sometimes decades,” said Emi MacLean, staff attorney for NDLON and one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs. “But in terminating TPS in the way that it did, this administration was exercising authority it did not have.”

The lawsuit contends that the decision to revoke TPS was based on the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant, white supremacist agenda.

According to the lawsuit, the decision to revoke TPS “motivated by intentional race- and national-origin-based animus against individuals from what President Trump has referred to as ‘shithole countries’.”

In addition to resting on a foundation of racism and nativism, the lawsuit says that Trump’s revocation of TPS is unconstitutional and violates the Administrative Procedures Act.

Trump’s revocation of TPS is unconstitutional, argues the lawsuit, because it deprives US citizens, this case the children of TPS holders, of their constitutional right to live in the US.

“These American children should not have to choose between their country and their family,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, advocacy and legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, who also represents the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit also says that the Trump administration has violated the Administrative Procedures Act because it arbitrarily and without explanation departed “from existing practice” without any regard for the impact that the revocation will have on peaceful, law-abiding people who contribute to the public good with their hard work and taxes.


In addition to Destin, the other adult plaintiffs are members of the National TPS Alliance, CARECEN-Los Angeles, African Communities Together, which are immigrant rights groups, and IUPAT.

D. Taylor, international president of UNITE HERE explained why the union is supporting this legal action to save TPS.

“This lawsuit is about who UNITE HERE is as a union, and who America is at its core,” Taylor said. “We are proud to be a union made up of many immigrant families and deeply committed to the labor movement as a civil rights vehicle. As Donald Trump and his administration attempt to divide America with his racist policies, it is imperative that labor serve as the moral conscious of this country and challenge the illegal and immoral policies that would destroy working families.”




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.

Women of Arise Chicago speak out against sexual harassment

Women who are members of Arise Chicago, a Chicago workers center, are speaking out against sexual harassment at work.

In a video titled Out of the Shadows, Arise members like Isabel Escobar, an Arise board member and domestic worker leader, tell their stories about being sexually harassed and threatened while on the job.

The video also offers advise about actions women can take to fight back against sexual harassment.

Escobar hopes that when people see Out of the Shadows, they will understand how sexual harassment menaces the livelihoods of women, especially those who work at low-wage jobs.

“We want to let people know that this doesn’t just happen to famous women,” said Escobar. “Abuse is not only committed by famous men in high power positions. Sexual harassment happens every day to low-wage workers, to immigrants, to women of color. And bosses, supervisors feel they have power over our work, our incomes. Therefore, many women are afraid to speak up or are afraid no one will believe us.”

Jocelyn Frye of the Center for American Progress has studied sexual harassment at work and finds that it is especially prevalent in service industries that employ a large number women who work for low wages.

According to Frye, the hospitality/food service and retail industries are the two sectors of the economy with the highest percentages of reported sexual harassment.

“Women—particularly women of color—are more likely to work lower-wage jobs, where power imbalances are often more pronounced and where fears of reprisals or losing their jobs can deter victims from coming forward,” writes Frye.

Women in the hospitality industry also face another source of sexual harassment.

UNITE HERE Local 1 in Chicago surveyed 500 union members who work in Chicago area hotels and casinos.

The survey found that 58 percent of hotel workers and 77 percent of casino workers reported that they have been sexually harassed by guests.

Sexual harassment by guests not only makes these workers uncomfortable, it can lead to sexual violence.

In response, Local 1 and the Chicago Federation of Labor succeeded in getting the Chicago City Council to pass the “Hands Off, Pants Up” city ordinance.

The ordinance protects hotel employees from retaliation when they report sexual violence by a guest. It also requires hotels to implement anti-harassment policies and to provide panic buttons to hotel workers who work alone in guest rooms and restrooms.

Workers can press panic buttons when guests act inappropriately toward them.

UNITE HERE has also negotiated a clause in their collective bargaining agreements with hotels around the country that requires the employer to provide workers with panic buttons.

“I feel much safer (because of the panic button),” said Betty Rice, a room attendant in a midtown Manhattan hotel room to WNYC radio.

“Because when you’re frightened, [that] doesn’t always mean you’re going to say ‘I’m on the 14th floor,'” Rice continued. “You’re screaming ‘I need help’. But with the panic button, once you press it, [hotel security] is already alert to where you [are].”

Unfortunately, there’s no panic button that can be pushed to stop unwanted sexual harassment by bosses or co-workers.

But Martina Sanchez, a worker leader of ARISE, sees hope in the fact that many women are coming forward to tell their stories and says that this moment represents a tipping point in the fight against sexual harassment.

“There are thousands of women who remain silent out of a variety of fears–fear of what will be said about them, fear of losing their job, or worst of all, fear they won’t be listened to and nothing will change,” said Sanchez. “But this moment is the beginning of a new struggle.”

Union questions DHHS secretary nominee about Big Pharma price gouging

Leaders of UNITE HERE had some pointed questions that they wanted Alex Azar to answer when he testified before the Senate Committee on Health, Labor, and Education on November 29.

Azar, a former top executive with Eli Lilly, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical corporations, is President Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

His nomination must be approved by the Senate.

The union is skeptical about Azar’s claim that he will support efforts to lower drug prices and wants to know why Azar didn’t do anything to curb Eli Lilly’s insulin price increases while he an executive with the firm.

D. Taylor, president of UNITE HERE, whose members work in the hospitality, food service, transportation, and other industries, said that during Azar’s tenure with Eli Lilly, the company raised the price of manufactured insulin by 300 percent.

Insulin produced by Eli Lilly is a synthetic hormone that replaces natural insulin produced by the body’s pancreas.

People with type 1 diabetes can’t produce natural insulin and must take daily injections of synthetic insulin to stay alive.

“Insulin is the poster child of what is going wrong in the way that the pharmaceutical industry does business,” said Taylor. “Alex Azar was at the helm (at Eli Lilly) as insulin prices soared.”

Given Azar’s past history, Taylor wanted to know how Azar could be expected to take meaningful steps to halt Big Pharma’s price gouging.

“A central role of DHHS is to deliver quality, affordable health care to all Americans–something that Alex Azar has built his career on blocking,” said Taylor. “Now Azar must answer: How can he reconcile abusing consumers and feeding the insatiable desire for even bigger profits (with his duty to serve the public and consumers at DHHS).”

UNITE HERE led successful efforts in California and Nevada to help contain drug price increases by fighting for new laws that bring transparency to the opaque pricing habits of the pharmaceutical industry.

In Nevada, a coalition of workers and consumers organized by UNITE HERE conducted a grassroots campaign that mobilized people to support passage of a law that requires pharmaceutical companies that manufacture insulin to report and make public the cost of manufacturing and marketing insulin.

The law also requires pharmaceutical company sales representatives to register with the state and report their contacts with health care providers.

The law that passed did not contain everything that UNITE HERE wanted to control insulin price increases, but the union called it “landmark legislation to protect Nevadans . . . living with diabetes from price gouging.”

Big Pharma, including Eli Lilly, vigorously opposed the price transparency bill that became law by mobilizing an army of 70 lobbying firms to oppose it.

Representatives of Eli Lilly testified against the bill, claiming that the company was not at fault for making insulin unaffordable for some people.

UNITE HERE also led a grassroots effort in California that won passage of another drug pricing transparency bill.

The bill, signed by California’s governor in October, requires pharmaceutical companies to notify the state and the public when it plans to raise drug prices by more than 16 percent. Companies must also justify their price increases.

Big Pharma spent $16.8 million in an unsuccessful effort to kill this modest price transparency bill.

In addition to raising doubts about Azar’s sincerity about curbing drug prices, UNITE HERE had questions about Azar’s interest in holding Big Pharma accountable to the public.

Drug research by Big Pharma is generously subsidized by the federal government, and Medicare and Medicaid pay for much if not most of the prescription drugs manufactured by Big Pharma.

“Yet there is zero accountability to the American public on what Big Pharma manufacturers are spending their profits on,” said Mike Casey, chair of UNITE HERE’s Health Care Task Force.

Casey added that Big Pharma justifies its enormous profits by saying that its profits are the reward it receives for the risks it takes to produce innovative medicines.

But “the fact is that twice as much money is dumped into selling and marketing their drugs than is spent on actually innovating,” said Casey.

Casey  wanted to know if Azar “would continue to toe (the) old Eli Lilly line that the money spent by pharmacy manufacturers marketing their drugs is a ‘trade secret’ that the American public has no right to know, despite subsidizing those profits?”

UNITE HERE said that Azar should be disqualified from becoming the new secretary of DHHS unless he can satisfactorily answer these questions and demonstrate that he will put the interests of the public and health care consumers ahead of Big Pharma.

Union to Trump: We’ll fight to protect immigrant workers

Two days before Thanksgiving, hundreds of UNITE HERE members in Florida converged on President Trump’s luxury resort in Mar-a-Lago, Florida to protest his administration’s decision to terminate the temporary protected status (TPS) of Haitian immigrants, who fled Haiti after a 2010 earthquake devastated their country.

Thousands of Haitian immigrants living and working in the US under the TPS program work in the hospitality industry in Florida and the Northeast and are UNITE HERE members.

“DHS and the Trump administration decided to take away the livelihoods of 50,000 Haitians working legally in the US and turn them into targets of deportation,” said Maria Elena Durazo, general vice president of UNITE HERE explaining why the union was protesting.

The Department of Homeland Security on November 20 announced that it was revoking the temporary protected status of Haitians and that they would have to leave the US by July 2019 or face deportation.

“These TPS holders have lived and worked in this country for nearly a decade and have American-born children and deep roots in their communities,” Durazo said. “The Trump administration and DHS are criminalizing 50,000 legal workers and ripping tens of thousands of dedicated, committed workers from the hospitality industry.”

Durazo added that despite DHS’ decision, UNITE HERE will continue to fight for a solution that allows immigrants covered by TPS to remain in the US and provides them a path toward citizenship.

Congress in 1990 created the TPS program to allow immigrants fleeing from war, political repression, or natural disasters to live and work in the US without fear of deportation.

The law allows DHS to designate “a foreign country for TPS due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately.”

DHS regularly reviews the protected status of each country to determine whether to extend it.

Until recently, TPS was routinely extended without much fanfare, but that began to change in September when DHS terminated TPS for immigrants from Sudan.

Six weeks later DHS terminated TPS for people from Nicaragua.

The agency also left people from Honduras in limbo when it temporarily extended their TPS for another six months but added that “it is possible that the TPS designation for Honduras will be terminated at the end of the six-month automatic extension with an appropriate delay.”

DHS will be reviewing the TPS designation for people from El Salvador and Syria in March.

UNITE HERE members for the past several months have been talking directly to members of Congress urging them to find a way to support a solution that would allow TPS recipients to live their lives without the fear of deportation.

That action has paid off. Sen. Christopher Coons of Delaware and Rep. Darren Soto of Florida have introduced companion bills called the ASPIRE Act, which would allow people covered by TPS on January 1, 2017 to apply for permanent residency.

People granted permanent residency after a five-year waiting period can apply for US citizenship.

At the demonstration in Florida, Belinda Osorio a union housekeeper who came from Honduras 1991, told the Miami Herald  how DHS’ decision has affected her and her family.

“We are very scared. We don’t know what will happen. I will have to leave in the middle of the night so I won’t get arrested,” said Osorio to the Herald. “After working so many years, and working so hard, they want to tear us apart. We aren’t living off the government. We pay taxes. What we have, we worked for.”

Osorio is married to a US citizen and has two young children born in the US.

Her union has vowed to fight the threat to her and her family.

“We will not allow (President Trump) to quietly destroy 50,000 other families,” said Wendi Walsh, secretary-treasurer of UNITE HERE Local 355 in Miami. “UNITE HERE has and always will stand shoulder to shoulder with our immigrant workers.”

Lopsided win for union workers in Las Vegas

In a lopsided vote, 78 percent of the workers at Stations Casino’s Green Valley Ranch in the suburbs of Las Vegas voted to join the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and the Bartenders Union Local 165, both are affiliates of UNITE HERE.

The large margin of victory is notable, said D. Taylor, president of UNITE HERE, because it flies in the face of conventional wisdom about the status of the labor movement.

The union victory, said Taylor, “proves that the media narrative that labor is dying is untrue, but that working people can win against all odds when they organize together.”

The union win is the third recent victory for pro-union workers at Stations Casino properties in the Las Vegas area.

Taylor also said that the union victory at Green Valley Ranch was notable because it took place in a so-called right-to-work state where the state “rigs the laws against workers to take away their power.”

The roots of the Green Valley Ranch victory can be traced back to 2010 when hundreds Stations Casino workers from all over Las Vegas came together to form a union organizing committee.

Stations Casino is owned by Red Rock Resorts, a publicly traded company controlled by Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta.

The Fertitta brothers took exception with their workers’ desire for a voice on the job and fought the organizing drive every step of the way.

Among other things, they ran television ads in 2012 warning workers not to join the union.

They also hired a union avoidance company, which conducted an ongoing anti-union campaign at work.

But union supporters fought back with their own spirited campaign, and in September 2016 workers at Boulder Station, a hotel and casino located about 11 miles east of the famous Las Vegas Strip, voted to join UNITE HERE by a vote of 355 to 177.

Desperate to stave off further union victories at their properties, the Fertitta brothers announced that they would lower health insurance premiums for all of Stations non-union workers; however union workers, they said, would continue to pay the same higher premiums.

Two months later when another union vote took place at Palace Station, another Station hotel and casino located a few miles away from the Strip, the union narrowly lost by four votes.

UNITE HERE blamed the loss on Stations’ decision to punish its newly unionized Boulder workers with higher health care premiumS and filed charges with National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The NLRB ruled that Stations acted illegally by punishing workers for their pro-union vote, and in March reached an agreement with the company requiring it to recognize the union at both its Boulder and Palace properties.

The next union vote at a Stations’ property took place on November 8 and 9 at Green Valley Ranch, a luxury boutique casino resort located in Henderson, Nevada about 16  miles southeast of Las Vegas.

The union won by a vote of 564 to 166.

Workers at Green Valley Ranch said that they voted for the union because they wanted the same wages and union benefits as workers at union hotels and casinos on the Strip and in downtown Las Vegas.

“We voted ‘YES’ to join the Culinary Union because we deserve fair wages and good benefits,” said Gladis Sosa de Funes, a guest room attendant at Green Valley Ranch. “Everyone knows the Culinary Health Plan is the best health insurance in Las Vegas, and we want our families to have it.”

Michael Wagner, a bartender at Green Valley Ranch since 2001, said that the organizing campaign to win a union was long and hard but it was worth it.

“I’m happy to have been able to help organize my coworkers and I felt so proud to vote ‘YES’ for the union!” said Wagner. “I look forward to joining together with other Station Casinos workers in negotiations with the company so we can have a fair union contract soon.”

The win at Green Valley Ranch leaves seven other Stations’ properties in the Las Vegas area that are still non-union: Red Rock Resort, Palms Casino Resort, Santa Fe Station, Sunset Stations, Texas Stations, Fiesta Henderson, and Fiesta Station.

Local 226 has informed the public that there is still a labor dispute at these properties and urges people coming to Las Vegas for a vacation to patronize hotels and casinos listed at fairhotel.org.

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.”