Building Power among Low-Wage Immigrant Workers: Some Legal Considerations for Organizing Structures and Strategies


Many immigrants come to the United States seeking better economic opportunities than they can find in their native countries. Unfortunately, they often arrive to find that the jobs waiting for them are exploitative, difficult, and dangerous. Asserting their legal and human rights to dignified and fair treatment in the workplace is not a simple endeavor. While labor unions are essential tools enabling workers to collectively stand up for their rights, the strength of American labor unions is declining. Many low-wage immigrant workers, in particular, find that representation from unions is either inadequate or unavailable to them. These workers may turn for assistance to other social service providers like government agencies and legal services organizations, where they will generally find that protections are under-enforced and services are severely limited. Even if a worker is fortunate enough to obtain legal representation, she will be faced with the fact that legal protections for workers, and especially for undocumented workers, are minimal. Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB recently increased restrictions on the legal rights of undocumented immigrant workers, holding that undocumented workers dismissed by employers in retaliation for union activities are not entitled to backpay awards.

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