July 15, 2011
Labor Standards Enforcement Should Become a Pillar of Federal and State Immigration Policymaking Agendas
As the United States struggles with high rates of unemployment and involuntary part-time employment, enforcement of labor laws should become a higher priority, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) concludes in a new report that recommends federal and state governments and other stakeholders make labor standards enforcement a pillar of their immigration policymaking agendas. The presence of vulnerable workers, including unauthorized immigrants, influences labor standards compliance, as does the necessity of many businesses to cut costs. Low-wage workers, especially unauthorized immigrants, face significant challenges, ranging from nonpayment of wages to poor working conditions and unrealized collective bargaining rights. Yet budgetary limitations constrain the ability of enforcement agencies — at both federal and state levels — to carry out their mandates.
The MPI report is Labor Standards Enforcement and Low-Wage Immigrants: Creating an Effective Enforcement System. IT analyzes the elements necessary for an effective labor standards enforcement system and details the enforcement records of the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations through the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The report, by MPI Vice President for Programs Donald Kerwin, focuses on enforcement in industries and firms with heavy concentrations of low-wage immigrant workers, such as the fast-food, garment manufacturing and agriculture industries.
The report includes data from 13 states that completed an MPI survey of their labor standards enforcement practices: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Washington state. The report finds that state resources devoted to labor standards enforcement rival the nearly $1.1 billion appropriated by the federal government in fiscal 2010 for WHD, OSHA and NLRB enforcement activities, and recommends that the federal and state governments work more closely with each other and with local governments, business and trade associations, labor unions, worker centers and others to leverage knowledge and resources.
The report, which highlights gaps and anomalies in labor protection, recommends that Congress extend core labor protections to categories of workers now exempt, to unauthorized workers and to others not meaningfully afforded protections. It also argues that Congress should strengthen penalties for labor standards violations in order to promote compliance and deter violations.
The MPI report queries whether enhanced labor standards enforcement might lead to reduced illegal immigration and employment of unauthorized immigrants, and suggests further study is necessary.
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