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Equal protection for workers



Published: Thu, June 2, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Baltimore Sun: Congress is wisely moving to rein in unscrupulous employers who exploit foreign guest workers, a long-standing problem that undermines labor standards in American workplaces.

Lawmakers recently proposed strengthening regulations governing guest worker programs and levying stiff fines for employers who violate the rules. Considering the widespread abuse in industries that hire these workers, the measures deserve strong support. Lawmakers should also extend protections to undocumented immigrants, who are a much more sizable portion of this country's work force.

Those who argue against giving undocumented immigrants workplace protections would be more persuasive if the Bush administration were seriously going after the employers who illegally hire them. Instead, the administration has largely tolerated this practice as a necessary component of labor market forces. As such, these workers deserve to be protected too, if not for ethical reasons then for the country's self-interest. Improved labor standards and safer working conditions benefit all workers -- American and foreign.

Employers who overwork and underpay undocumented workers, expose them to dangerous job conditions yet refuse to pay medical expenses for injuries and threaten to have them deported if they complain lower the standards for everyone.

Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat, has introduced legislation that would hold employers and foreign labor contractors jointly responsible for mistreatment of guest workers, and heavily fine violators.

Documented abuses

Mr. Miller has pressed for this measure before to end widely documented abuses, including indentured servitude, of tens of thousands of mostly poor Asian women in the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth. One needn't look far to find similar examples stateside, in the agricultural, construction, landscape and meatpacking industries, among many others, where the victims are from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

"This type of abuse is happening all over our nation," Mr. Miller said in a written statement. "It is a violation of our most basic shared humanity, and it must be stopped." We agree wholeheartedly.




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