The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 73/No. 27      July 20, 2009

Immigrant workers
demand jobs back
254 at California company protest firings
(lead article)
VERNON, California—“We’re here, we’re not leaving, and if they fire us we’ll be back!” chanted 150 workers and their supporters outside the Overhill Farms plant here July 1.

The workers are demanding reinstatement after the company fired 254 of them for allegedly having invalid Social Security numbers. In their place, Overhill is hiring “part-time” workers who work full-time hours at minimum wage with no benefits.

The ongoing fight by workers at Overhill Farms took on added importance when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) gave notice July 1 to 652 companies—nearly 50 of them in Los Angeles—of plans to audit their employment records. That’s more notices than were issued in all of 2008. In April, President Barack Obama’s administration had issued new immigration policy guidelines for ICE with tougher enforcement aimed at employers.

American Apparel, which employs more than 5,000 garment workers in Los Angeles, said that a government audit last year found that up to 1,800 of its workers were allegedly undocumented. The company has begun firing some of these workers and giving notice to others that they have 30 days to present valid work authorization, or they will be fired.

In Congress, Democrats have tapped New York senator Charles Schumer to lead crafting an “immigration reform” bill. A priority of the bill is to make a “dramatic reduction in future illegal immigration,” reported the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Outlining what might be in the bill June 24 Schumer stressed that Democrats must show the other side that they are serious about “combating illegal immigration.” Schumer said, “People who enter the United States without our permission are illegal aliens, and should … not be treated the same as people who entered the United States legally.”

Schumer also proposes that all workers be required to apply for a “forgery-proof” ID card.

At the July 1 picket line, the Overhill Farms workers announced they are suing the company for stiffing them on overtime pay and launched a national boycott of Overhill and its customers.

In the midst of the protest action, Overhill Farms launched a counteroffensive by serving subpoenas to six workers, accusing them of defamation and extortion for making “maliciously false and recklessly misleading and inflammatory statements” about the company. Also named in the suit is Nativo Lopez, president of the General Brotherhood of Workers International Union, which is organizing the fight.

On June 24 Lopez was also charged with election fraud. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, working with the secretary of state, charged that Lopez registered to vote from an address that is not his legal residence and is therefore guilty of four felonies.

At a meeting of about 60 activists, including workers from the Overhill plant, Lopez explained that the charges had to be seen in the context of the attempt to organize Overhill workers. “There is no question that the charges come from the fight at Overhill Farms and our intention to organize in Vernon,” a large industrial enclave adjacent to Los Angeles, he said.

Since their firing on May 31, the Overhill Farms workers have held weekly protests in front of the plant to press their demands, which include getting their jobs back and benefits for the part-time workers.

On June 26 Overhill fired three more workers for supporting the protesters. One of them, Marcelino Arteaga, was a shop steward for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 inside the plant. “At first I thought the company had a right to fire them” because of the no-match letters, he said. But he soon realized the company “was simply using this to get rid of people.”

“So I joined the marches after work. That’s why they fired me. They said I was ‘undesirable.’ But what I’m doing is protected under the First Amendment, freedom of speech.”

James Harris contributed to this article.
Related articles:
N. Carolina meat packers win first union pact
Company threatens plant closure after union victory
Legalize all immigrants now!  
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