The Skadden Report - The 2nd Year Begins

The Immigrant Workers' Rights Project is now in its second year of fighting for racial and economic justice for low-wage immigrant working communities throughout New Jersey. IWRP continues to work in three primary areas: civil legal services, group-based advocacy or organizing, and legislative reform. In the past year, IWRP has received hundreds of requests for assistance from immigrant workers of all backgrounds. In this era of economic recession and post-September 11th political concerns, violations of workers' rights are on the rise. Employers regularly refuse to provide compensation for work, threaten workers with deportation and physical harm, and take unlawful retaliatory actions or subject workers to harassment when they fight for their lawful rights. IWRP is the first project in the state to solely address these issues and to provide legal representation for undocumented workers.

IWRP has celebrated several significant victories this year. A highly publicized case on behalf of Mexican workers against a regional chain of 99-cent stores was settled after mediation. Over the summer, an investigation developed by IWRP resulted in the payment of back wages for dozens of Mexican immigrant greenhouse workers at a prominent company. And most recently, a group of thirty El Salvadorean, Colombian and Dominican immigrant commuter van drivers won their case at the National Labor Relations Board, securing several months of back wages and, perhaps more importantly, union recognition and an order to the employer to bargain with the group.

IWRP is currently representing or investigating the claims of several individual immigrant workers who have unpaid wages and overtime compensation claims, as well as unlawful retaliation and discrimination allegations. The workers include immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America, Pakistan, Angola, China and India. The cases involve a wide range of industries—from restaurant to construction, security to domestic work, and have been filed with either the state Department of Labor or the federal and state courts.

In addition, many immigrant workers are the victims of document abuse, and IWRP counsels both workers and employers who have had questions of confrontations about employment verification, tax issues and information-sharing. These issues form only part of IWRP's continuing public education programs with community-based immigrant membership organizations, faith coalitions and organized labor. From a policy perspective, IWRP is part of a handful of statewide coalitions, including the New Jersey Immigration and Policy Network, that participate in the broader agenda of racial and economic justice. IWRP was a lead participant and planner in the first-ever May Day March and Rally for Immigrants' Rights in Newark, New Jersey, where over five hundred immigrants took to the streets to protest for the dignified and humane immigration policies. In addition, IWRP is working with both state Assembly and Senate members on legislative reform packages in the areas of New Jersey Wage and Hour Laws, access to department services, and access to drivers' licenses. Finally, IWRP is a member of national coalitions struggling for legalization and immigrants' rights.

-By Jennifer Ching, ACLU-NJ's Skadden fellow

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