May 28, 2013 Liz Borkowski, MPH 0Comment

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved immigration legislation that would overhaul US immigration laws. Alan Gomez reports in USA Today:

The bill was produced by a bipartisan group of senators known as the Gang of Eight. With four of those members on the committee, the bill survived 212 amendments over five lengthy hearings.

Left intact was the core of the bill, which will allow the nation’s 11 million unauthorized immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship, add significant investments in border security and fundamentally alter the legal immigration system of the future.

The committee approved the bill 13-5, meaning the bill is on track to be debated on the full Senate floor beginning the first week of June.

Among the bill’s provisions is a new program of “W visas” to allow workers to come to the US from other countries to fill jobs not being filled by US residents. A Center for Global Development/ Partnership for a New American Economy report (via Wonkblog’s Dylan Matthews) sheds light on why agricultural employers consider this so important. In 2011, around 130,000 people in North Carolina were unemployed, but fewer than 300 asked to be referred for the North Carolina Growers’ Association for agricultural work; 97% of referred applicants were hired, but only 163 showed up to work the first day and only seven were still working by the end of the growing season. “Analyzing data from North Carolina farms, this report shows that foreign agriculture workers fill jobs that native workers will not, and that by filling these jobs, foreign workers benefit North Carolina’s economy and create jobs for Americans,” writes report author Michael A. Clemens.

In other news:

In These Times: Following the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building in Bangladesh, which killed 1,127 people, reforms are beginning. The Bangladeshi government announced it will raise the minimum wage in the garment industry and make it less difficult for garment workers to unionize. Also, seven major clothing companies have created a binding fire and safety agreement.

Washington Post: Contract workers doing food-service and cashier work at Smithsonian Museums and federal-government office buildings walked off their jobs to protest low wages and a lack of benefits. The one-day protest was organized by Good Jobs Nation.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration: An OSHA investigation found that Enercon Services Inc. wrongfully terminated an employee who raised safety concerns during nuclear-energy construction projects; now, the agency has ordered the company to reinstate the employee and pay back wages and compensatory damages totaling more than $250,000.

NPR’s All Things Considered: A new law in Brazil sets domestic workers’ weekly hours at 44 (with overtime pay for more) and mandates hour-long lunch breaks and paid vacation. Two months after it took effect, many domestic workers are still paid under the table and most haven’t registered their status, the first step to ensuring they get the law’s benefits.

ProPublica (in collaboration with Marketplace): In Chicago, “raiteros” who drive immigrant workers to temp jobs with large companies (like Ty Inc, maker of Beanie Babies) function as informal temp agencies — but the charges they deduct for transportation to jobs and the time workers spend waiting before and after rides makes the workers’ net wages fall below minimum wage. Workers told reporters that they don’t have the choice of finding their own transportation; if they don’t arrive with a raitero, they say they aren’t able to work.

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