More Employers Threaten Undocumented Workers

Manuel, who works in a Manhattan restaurant, reported that his employers have threatened him. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

In light of the increase in cases of New York City employers who threaten their undocumented workers with calling immigration authorities, state authorities are encouraging victims of retaliation, discrimination and threats to report the abuse, writes Edwin Martínez in El Diario. James Rogers, deputy commissioner of Worker Protection at the New York Department of Labor, said that, while only 30 complaints regarding threats related to immigration status were filed in the last three years, the real rate of recurrence is “rampant.” Still, “people who do not have papers are terrified to report this, particularly after the latest presidential election.” Employers who intimidate workers by referring to their immigration status may be fined up to $10,000 for their first offense, which goes to the Department of Labor, and up to $20,000 in damages, disbursed directly to the employee.

Immigrant worker Manuel A. said that he endured threats and retaliation when he spoke up for his rights at the Italian restaurant on Second Avenue and 26th Street where he works as a cook. For three years, his employers paid him only $535 for over 50 hours of labor per week. When he protested, his bosses put in practice a tactic that has become increasingly common.

The 47-year-old Ecuador native and his co-workers were given an I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification form to fill out, which they had not been asked to do when they were first hired. This practice is considered illegal and prosecuted in New York State, and the form is deemed proof of retaliation.

“Last month, they handed us that document and told us that they would not pay us the check they owed us if we did not fill it out. The manager wanted to force us all to do it,” said Manuel, who is a father.

(…) “Ever since Trump became president, I have felt that there is more discrimination. [My bosses] are Italian, and they often humiliate us. They tell us: ‘Leave. You have no rights here,’ ‘Trump is my friend,’ ‘Trump is my godfather, and he will come for all of you to kick you out,’ and the managers just laugh and stay silent. They have begun to see us Hispanics as worthless,” said the cook, who is working with his lawyers to file a lawsuit.

(…)

Cristobal Gutiérrez, from Make the Road New York’s Worker’s Justice Project, confirmed that threats made by employers have increased during the Trump era. Still, he added that he knows of no cases in which employers have followed through with calling ICE, and explained that the practice is considered an “intimidation tactic” aimed at paying employees less or to retaliate for their attempts to claim their rights.

Rebecca Nathanson, director of the Anti-Retaliation Unit of the New York State Department of Labor, said that employers who threaten their employees using their immigration status are prosecuted and issued stiff fines and penalties that may reach $30,000. “Requiring the I-9 eligibility form after the employee has been working is a way to punish and intimidate an employee, and it is illegal,” said the state official.

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