The National Guestworker Alliance just announced a huge victory. The C.J.’s Seafood workers who exposed forced labor on the Wal-Mart supply chain in June were vindicated by the federal government, which granted them U-Visas—special visas for victims of serious crimes. This is an extraordinary victory for worker organizing and labor law enforcement in the U.S.
Now, armed with protections against deportation, the C.J.’s workers are entering labor camps across the Gulf Coast, organizing hundreds of other Wal-Mart supply chain workers to stop forced labor at their own workplaces. Winning these immigration protections allows the C.J.’s workers to continue to be leaders in their campaign—both as witnesses to the ongoing government investigations they triggered at their own workplace, and as organizers fighting to secure the basic rights of all workers on the Wal-Mart supply chain.
It is all too common that employers use threats of immigration enforcement as a weapon to exploit their employees. Workers who organize face retaliation, and have little to no protection in their effort to hold employers accountable. When the C.J.’s workers decided to organize to expose forced labor, they risked losing everything: their jobs, their housing, their immigration status, and their ability to come back to the United States in the future. They courageously came forward anyway.
U-Visas were established to encourage immigrant victims to come forward and report crimes, as well as to aid officials in such investigations. The visas are most commonly used to protect victims of domestic and violent crimes, and have been an important tool for prosecutors to protect victims from immigration-related threats and intimidation. Although U-Visas can be granted to workers for crimes related to their employment, as they were in this case, it is relatively uncommon. Broader protections for workers who face threats at work are sorely needed.
To stop workplace abuse, we need to expand access to protections such as U-Visas. The POWER Campaign has been partnering with workers’ centers, labor unions, and legislators to expand access to U-Visas and other protections in the fight to stop employer crimes. Through successful worker organizing, we can build broader defenses and enhance conditions for the passage of new protections, including the POWER Act (Protecting Our Workers from Exploitation and Retaliation), which would expand access to U-Visas so thousands of workers can follow in the footsteps of the C.J.’s strike leaders, bravely coming out of the shadows to organize for better working conditions for everyone.