On November 20, President Obama announced that his administration is enacting sweeping immigration reform. It is a momentous first step to prevent the exploitation of millions of undocumented workers who currently suffer wage theft under exploitative contractors throughout the United States.
As a labor union that fights this fight on a daily basis, we applaud President Obama’s initiative to protect those skilled workers who only want to work and receive a fair day’s pay. Just this month, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 51 in Metro Washington, DC won a victory on behalf of nearly 100 workers, many of whom were undocumented, and reached out to our union when they could no longer bear their employer cheating them out of overtime and due wages under the threat of deportation.
The fight began in August 2013, when the workers at Tito Contractors, a painting and tile company in Baltimore, Maryland, approached the IUPAT about their plight with management. IUPAT representatives moved immediately to help them recover wages and overtime with the help of community groups such as Jobs with Justice, Justice at Wings and the employment justice center Washington’s Lawyers Committee. Why did these groups join the fight with the IUPAT? They backed our cause because the IUPAT is working every day to back their causes. It’s a case study on how Community Organizing for Real Economics (CORE) works to build our union.
Even our political activism for pro-working family candidates made an impact as Washington, DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and District of Columbia councilmembers, at the request of the IUPAT and fellow community groups, worked with federal officials to remove the fear of deportation as we prepared to take the workers’ case to the National Labor Relations Board.
In the end, the NLRB agreed that the workers were owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in back wages. Thanks to the IUPAT and its community partners, these workers will receive the income they worked so hard for from Tito Contractors. The next step? The IUPAT is contract talks with the company to represent the workers.
The IUPAT is growing thanks to the CORE initiative that encompassed all of our efforts in organizing, community group partnership and political action. The fight is far from over for those workers, and the many others being exploited in the workplace, but the IUPAT has proven that it is ready for what lies ahead.
More to come on President Obama’s executive order on immigration and how the IUPAT will utilize it to organize and grow our union.