Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Congress considering two worker's rights bills

Two important bills affecting worker rights are coming before Congress: The H-1B and L-1 Visa Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act and the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

The first gives U.S. workers a fair chance at jobs in the technology sector. The Bush administration's policy has been to allow companies to give preferential treatment to foreign information technology workers over U.S. citizens.

This policy has been described in the Department of Labor's Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2006-2011. It states:
...H-1B workers may be hired even when a qualified U.S. worker wants the job, and a U.S. worker can be displaced from the job in favor of the foreign worker.
These foreign workers are brought in under the H-1B visa program. Employers have been allowed to state they want H-1B foreign workers only in want ads, and to fire American workers so that H-1B workers can take their place.

This policy has not only hurt American workers, but also foreign workers, since the company often exercises control over the worker's visa, and can determine whether or not the person can stay in the country.

The H-1B worker also becomes dependent on his or her former employer for assistance with paperwork if he or she wants to find another job. Consequently, employers get a docile workforce that will not unionize or stand up for worker rights.

Last year, the Department of Labor uncovered systematic underpayment of wages to workers holding United States visas. Hilda Solis, the Secretary of Labor-designate, argued at her confirmation hearing that it should be federal policy to require employers to seek American talent first.

Many industry lobbyists say they need to hire foreign workers, because they can't find Americans to do the jobs. But that's not what the Urban Institute found:
According to the [Urban Institute] study, Americans and green card holders received 435,000 Bachelors, Masters, and PhD.'s in science, engineering and computer science yearly from 1985 to 2000. However, the economy could only produce 150,000 jobs annually for these graduates during the same period. That's a deficit of 280,000 jobs annually. High-tech employers couldn't produce enough jobs for 4.2 million STEM graduates, with two-thirds of these graduates never able to practice their craft. Separate studies by Harvard University, Duke University, the Rand Corp, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation also report an oversupply of STEM graduates.
The other bill, The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, is named after a woman who lost a pay discrimination lawsuit because the Supreme Court said she filed her legal challenge after the statue of limitations had expired.

Lily learned about her pay discrimination too late to file within the legal deadline, but that made no difference to the Court, which ruled her challenge was invalid because she didn't file suit within one hundred and eighty days of her first unfair paycheck.

Unless the law is changed, the Supreme Court's ruling will stand, meaning that any employer that could figure out a way to hide pay discrimination for six months would be able to get away with it, leaving workers with no legal recourse.

The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, first proposed in 2007, was cosponsored by President-elect Barack Obama and supported by Democrats, but opposed by Bush and the Republicans, who managed to block its passage in the 110th Congress.

The legislation declares that a violation occurs with every discriminatory paycheck. It would restore fairness and justice in the American workplace. It has just been passed by the House and is now before the Senate.

The Bush error has been a disaster for civil rights and America's working men and women. These two acts will help repair the damage.


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