The ‘American Dream’ is for everyone

As soon as an economic crisis hits, they are always some of the first to get laid off.

Janitors all over San Diego are facing tremendous challenges with many positions eliminated and hours reduced.

Because many of them are undocumented, they are forced to work long hours and they cannot protest due to fear of deportation.

Large retailers, hospitals, banks, malls, grocery stores, and many more, use outside contractors to clean their businesses. But some of those contractors abuse workers, forcing them to perform the work of two or three people, for little pay.

Because of their undocumented immigrant status, they are an easy prey for the contractors that find it easy to make money at the expense of helpless people.

“I was here two weeks when I realized the constant abuses. But I’m trapped, I have three kids. Working in these companies, for poor people like me, is like seeing an oasis. It is an illusion, not real.” said 43 year-old custodian that only provided a nickname, “Mara”, one of the many new workers recently hired with lower wages and often working without the basic safety equipment.

Undocumented workers are vulnerable to abusive employers and need protection from the abuse that is escalating;psychological pressure, forced to finish the work of two or more people on time, receiving their earned salary two or three weeks later, and a constant reminder that if they don’t like it they won’t pay them.

The unfair labor practices that these groups commit are rarely exposed so the abuse continues.

Some of the workers that were interviewed ensure that the constant stress affects the way they perform their work. They all agree that it is good to have a job but their employer’s constant intimidation, lack of breaks and no health insurance, makes it a bittersweet experience.

Carlos, another worker from a cleaning crew said he makes $7 an hour — minimum wage in California is $8 an hour — and said that with that money “it is not easy for me to live here, but you do what you have to do, working people must make do with a lower standard of living.”

According to their website five months ago, the United Service Workers West, a part of the Service Employees International Union, stated that “When workers are left behind, forced to work without legal protections and without a voice on the job, we all lose. Companies can’t compete fairly against those that exploit powerless workers for cheap labor. Workers can’t speak up against abuses for fear for retaliation.”

The United Service Workers West represents more than 40,000 janitors, security officers, airport service workers, and other property service workers across California.

In a job with no benefits and endless cuts custodians are not allowed to have a raise, even when many have been working for years. But the janitors are not alone.

All over the city, there are many workers that secretly have to keep working and accept whatever they are told to keep their jobs; workers with no voice like housekeepers, landscape crews and large and small retailers cleaning crews.

An article on NJ.com in January, said that a Seton Hall University Law School report found that 26 percent of the 113 workers polled at seven New Jersey work sites had been assaulted by their employer and only 14 percent reported the assault to police.
Brian Lonegan, a specialist in immigration law, directed a research and said that “just because somebody is undocumented doesn’t mean they have surrendered all legal rights or human dignity. If you work, you get paid.”

To prevent an inhumane treatment against immigrants, authorities need to stop employers who profit from these abuses and prosecute the responsible.

We need more aggressive efforts to uncover immigration abuses.

“We can’t get back on the path to prosperity this way. We can’t sustain the greatness of this country if hard-working people don’t all have a fair chance at the American dream,” SEIU ended.