U.S., Central American nations pledge to protect migrant workers - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

U.S., Central American nations pledge to protect migrant workers

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Posted: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 5:15 am

WASHINGTON – Migrant laborers in this country will be able to get information on workers compensation, wage-and-hour laws and other U.S. labor protections “no matter how you got here,” under an agreement signed Monday.

The deal signed at the Labor Department adds Costa Rica, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic to the U.S. and three other Latin American countries that have agreed to look out for the rights of migrant workers.

As part of the agreement, those countries, along with Mexico, Guatemala and Nicaragua, will distribute information from their consulates here about regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other U.S. labor agencies.

“No matter how you got here or how long you plan to stay, you have certain rights,” U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said at Monday’s signing ceremony. “You have a right to a safe and healthy workplace and the right to a legal wage.”

Solis said the Labor Department will not share with other agencies the details of workers who seek information.

“What we’re trying to avoid is that these vulnerable communities be abused, and that there be an increase in more underground economic activity that goes untaxed,” she said.

Supporters of the agreement said it does not encourage companies to hire undocumented workers in the “economy of shadows,” but does the exact opposite. Informing migrant workers of the law can prevent companies from easily exploiting them, said Arturo Sarukhan, the Mexican ambassador to the U.S.

“I don’t believe that increased labor-standard enforcement will drive employers and employees to the informal economy,” he said at the signing event. “To the contrary, with effective labor enforcement, we can push back against the economy of shadows.”

Undocumented workers are already owed legal wages for work performed here, even if they are deported, said Terri Cruz, a social service counselor for Chicanos por la Causa Inc. in Phoenix.

She said the Labor Department has worked with her organization to help migrants receive wages in cases when they were deported or otherwise removed from the U.S. before being paid.

Monday’s agreement will likely have little impact on Southwest agriculture because large buyers will not purchase from farms using illegal practices, said Lance Jungmeyer, president of Fresh Produce Association of the Americas. The group represents Mexican produce exporters.

“The buyers, the Safeways and the Wal-Marts of the world, they’re looking at labor standards,” he said. “There really is no reason to break the rules because you’ll get effectively shut out of the marketplace.”

Joshua Armstrong is a reporter for Cronkite News Service.

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