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Immigrant Workforce – An Easy Target

All of the tactics used to sway the employees to unionize were based on deception, but there were specific times in my career when that deception reached levels that were most shocking.

Ricardo Torres President & CEO - PSLC

9/2/2009

All of the tactics used to sway the employees to unionize were based on deception, but there were specific times in my career when that deception reached levels that were most shocking.

The workforce in the Mexican or Hispanic immigrant community has been a strong part of union deception for many years. They were an easy target for many union organizers and as a Hispanic organizing director with many Hispanic organizers under me I certainly capitalized on this.

Many pre- 9/11 immigrant workers used fake identification to gain workers’ papers in the United States. They would have a social security number to use and most employers turned a blind eye to it. They only knew that they were hiring hard working family oriented people, whose main objective was to send money home to struggling family members. These were the “easy targets.” The laws after 9/11 have changed and a new law states that if any union has a government contract, social security numbers are checked and verified. Immigrants are not able to forge documents in this case.

However, for most workers’ it was a lot easier. It has been my experience that a lot of Mexican or other Hispanic immigrant workers will share a residence with other immigrants. I have seen homes with up to 15 immigrants living together. Most times these people would work together and I ALWAYS knew where to try to ensure job security. I promised to provide the strong “possibility” of Green Cards, which always seemed to hit home. Also, a lot of immigrant workers’ that I came in contact with could not read or write in English which made them an even easier target.

We also made use of all local and National Hispanic support groups including the Church to get them to support our organizing attempts; our goal was to make this appear to be a mini human rights campaign injecting a moral aspect into the organizing drive, to make people feel outraged over the perceived abuses by the company.

One of my luckiest days trying to get signatures came when I made a training visit with two of my lead organizers to an employee’s home. There were 13 immigrant workers living in the house but I expected many more signatures from that one home.

I always instructed my organizers that were making house calls keep a few cards filled out with fake names and information. They would give potential members a peek, without showing the actual cards, giving the illusion that other people in their community who were in the same situation had already signed with the union. This day was no different.

To my surprise a phone call came in while I was there. The “coyote” (a man who was paid to bring these, and many other immigrants, over the border to work) called to check on his people. I was there and he was NOT happy. He asked to speak to me and told me to leave immediately. He said that he knew who I was and what I was doing there. He didn’t want me interfering and causing trouble for him.

I didn’t cause any trouble in the home, and left quickly, but I made sure that I took his number with me. I called him as soon as I got in my car. My conversation was much different now. I explained with conviction that I would get my signatures and he was going to do it for me. I explained that I knew who he was also, and that my very next phone call was going to be to the authorities, unless of course he got me ALL of the signatures I demanded. Not only from the home visit of today, but ALL of the people he has brought here as laborers. They would unionize with me, and he would avoid a visit from the authorities.

It sometimes played out like a movie. And many late nights since then I have stayed awake thinking about how I was so easily able to deceive the people who so believed that I was there last hope. In their eyes I was the only answer to provide for their families and maintain job security.