The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) kicked off a nationwide campaign Monday “designed to educate immigrant construction workers on a multitude of issues including wage theft and changes to immigration policy that will affect hundreds of thousands of workers and their families in 2018.” In Rhode Island, union members, organizers and allies were outside the D’Ambra Construction site at 800 Jefferson Boulevard in Warwick, where a new hotel, partly subsidized by the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation is under construction.
“D’Ambra is a union road builder,” said Justin Kelley, Business Representative with IUPAT Local 195. “So we’re saddened that they chose to use Ahlborg Construction which is a non-union general contractor that’s decided to sub-contract non-union glazing, drywall and painting firms like Villalobos Dry Wall and AC Painting and Wallcovering.”
The new hotel is an almost $30 million project that does not pay area standard wages and benefits, according to IUPAT. “Area standard wages and benefits are what workers in the craft should expect to get working on any job of size. Whenever there’s a project of size, the workers there should get area standard wages and benefits so they can provide a living wage to their families and themselves, regardless of where they’re from or their immigration status.”
“Villalobos Drywall has had situations where workers have come forward with wage theft complaints to Fuerza Laboral which were rectified once we met with the company,” said Kelley. “We have a complaint in with the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training that Villalobos Drywall didn’t pay the prevailing wage on work they did on the Potter Burns Elementary School in Pawtucket.”
According to the 2015 report, Gaming the System, “…across the country, employers are subcontracting and outsourcing their work and distancing themselves from their responsibilities to their employees. Through practices such as multi-layered contracting, the use of staffing or temporary employment firms, franchising, misclassifying employees as independent contractors, and other means, employers are turning traditionally secure jobs into low-wage poverty jobs. While sometimes these practices reflect more efficient ways of producing goods and services, too often they are the result of explicit employer strategies to evade labor laws and erode worker protections.”
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The weakening or elimination of Temporary Protective Status (TPS) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) “coupled with alarming news that wage theft is on the rise” has led IUPAT to coordinate “efforts to educate workers on exploitation and safety on the jobsite.” TPS “is a renewable program that provides relief from deportation and access to a work permit for individuals from certain countries who cannot safely return to their country of origin.” DACA “was an American immigration policy that allowed some individuals who entered the country as minors, and had either entered or remained in the country illegally, to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and to be eligible for a work permit.”
IUPAT’s effort has a special urgency today, as President Donald Trump‘s administration has announced plans to rescind TPS for 200,000 Salvadorans. United States Representative David Cicilline (RI-01) called Trump’s decision “cruel and short-sighted. It will tear apart families, disrupt our economy, and undermine our strategic goals in Latin America.”
Attacks on TPS undermine workers’ ability to legally defend themselves from wage theft and other abuses. IUPAT writes that, “thirty percent of TPS recipients have found employment in the construction industry, many of them work in our trades and many of them are in our union. Repealing this program would immediately put them in jeopardy, upend their lives, and would inevitably lead to our union brothers and sisters having enormous hardship in their lives through no fault of their own.”
IUPAT has recently joined the coalition Working Families United, a coalition of labor unions, including the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, UNITE HERE, the Ironworkers, the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), seeking immigrant worker justice. The coalition represents two million United States workers.
“We want to see the guys on this work site paid well, paid area standard wages and benefits,” said Kelley. “We wanted to inform them about their rights as people, as human beings, and hopefully get a little for traction around TPS and DACA. This efforrt is happening nationwide today.”
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