The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 72/No. 33      August 25, 2008

(front page)
Pennsylvania janitors rally
against immigration raid
Militant/John Staggs
Lucía Varrias, arrested in July 31 immigration raid at ABM Industries, speaks at August 7 rally in Norristown Pennsylvania.

NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania—The union representing cleaning workers here organized a rally and a press conference to protest a July 31 immigration raid. In what the union denounced as “an ambush,” bosses helped cops arrest 42 janitors, most of whom belong to Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union.

The union said that ABM Industries, which employed the workers, instructed them to attend a mandatory training meeting on July 31. There, the company said, they would receive their paychecks, including overtime pay for the training. If workers did not attend the meeting they could lose their jobs, ABM warned.

But as the meeting began, the bosses walked out and in came some 15 armed agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). They locked all the doors and arrested 42 workers. Twenty remain in custody and 22 with children or medical conditions were released pending a court hearing. They cannot work and are forced to wear 24-hour electronic tracking devices on their ankles. All the workers are charged with violating immigration law.

“It is totally unfair that we were misled this way,” said Lucía Varrías, one of the workers arrested. She spoke here at an August 7 rally protesting the raid. Close to 200 people attended the rally, called by Local 32BJ.

Jazmín Zavala told the Militant that when she walks down the street wearing the ankle bracelet tracking device “people look at me and think I’m some sort of criminal.”

Margarita Trinidad, another worker with the tracking device, said that she can’t “work, travel, or pay the rent.”

ICE agents allowed U.S.-born workers present during the raid to leave, Local 32BJ shop steward Rob Houston told the rally. He heard ICE agents say the native-born workers were “not it.”

“I guess if you have an Hispanic name, you are not a human being but an ‘it,’” Houston said.

He reported that the company brought in nonunion workers to work alongside Local 32BJ members two weeks before the raid. Those workers remain on the job.

A meeting and press conference in Spanish was organized here August 5 by Local 32BJ. Fifty workers, mostly Mexican, attended, including seven wearing braceletas.

Marta Gómez and Alejandro Sánchez, two garment workers from Norristown, organized a dozen coworkers to attend the press conference in solidarity.  
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