Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Evidence mounts of ICE ties to union busting

There is mounting evidence that the recent spate of immigration raids might have more far reaching implications than originally thought. Appearing at first to be the result of increased pressure from the right to take a tougher stance on illegal employers, growing evidence suggests that the raids are instead being used by businesses to help them fight union organizers.

Questions first came up after the December 12th raids on the Swift&Co. plants following management's cooperation in ICE's Basic Pilot program to screen for undocumented immigrants.

Things were further complicated later that month when statements made by ICE chief, Julie Meyers, at a Chicago immigration symposium hinting at a new policy cracking down on unions were revealed. Speaking before the University of Chicago Legal Forum, Meyers stated that due to unions increasingly providing representation to undocumented workers, ICE would "need to look at" unions' possible violations of the boundary between "charitable assistance and the unlawful employment of aliens."

Any question of collusion between employers and ICE were put to rest this week with the revelation of a new program called IMAGE that has allowed employers to essentially use ICE as modern day Pinkertons in union disputes.

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Over the past seven months, Bush administration officials have quietly toured the country, trying to persuade businesses that rely heavily on immigrant labor to join a little-known program that would spare them from embarrassing federal raids if they voluntarily handed over their workers' documents so the government can scan them for fraudulent information.

Officials at the Department of Homeland Security have asked companies to join the ICE Mutual Agreement Between Government and Employers program, known as IMAGE, operated by the department's Immigrations and Customs Enforcement division. It calls on businesses to submit all I-9 employee eligibility verification forms to ICE for an audit and to "ensure the accuracy of their wage reporting" by verifying workers' Social Security numbers, according to a description of the program

"The upside for those who . . . participate is that they're better equipped to know whether their workforce is legal, and ICE is less likely to be on their doorstep unexpectedly, interfering with their business," said Matthew Allen, acting deputy assistant director for infrastructure and fraud in the agency's investigations division.

Allen would not disclose the names of companies recruited into IMAGE, saying only that dozens have taken the steps toward enrollment.

One business, Smithfield Packing Co., which operates the world's largest hog slaughterhouse, in Tar Heel, N.C., has participated since June, with dramatic results. Twenty-one workers at the plant were arrested last week after the government scrutinized forms submitted by the company.

ICE alerted Smithfield by e-mail of discrepancies in employees' records. A company spokesman said 541 workers in the plant's workforce of 5,000 are facing termination because of discrepancies on their job applications. Nearly half of Smithfield's labor pool is Latino.

(Company spokesman Dennis) Pittman called Smithfield's agreement with ICE "a business decision" resulting from an implied threat. "We knew raids could be a possibility," he said. "We felt going this way, there would be less of an effect."

But Smithfield received an added benefit from cooperating with the government, according to the union that is helping its workers organize. Union officials say the company submitted the names of organizers as a tactic to intimidate some workers and get rid of others. The officials note that the National Labor Relations Board has found that Smithfield worked to undermine union elections by intimidating employees in 1994 and 1997.

"Most of the leaders of a walkout in November are on their list," said Leila McDowell, a spokeswoman for the United Food and Commercial Workers. "Whether ICE is consciously in collusion or not, Smithfield could very easily manipulate the process and can use it as a tool to intimidate and threaten workers, which it has done in the past and been found to have done so illegally."

Washington Post

Smithfeild's Tar Heel plant has a long and troubled history when it comes union organizing.

Twice in the last dozen years, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) mounted union-organizing drives at Tar Heel. Twice, when the workers voted, the union lost. The second election, held in 1997, was a whopping 2-to-1 loss for the UFCW.

But seven years later, when it finally addressed the union's appeal, the NLRB found that Smithfield had systematically harassed pro-union employees while openly favoring anti-union workers; it also threatened in forced-attendance meetings to cut wages or even close the plant if the union won. All of which is illegal.

In addition, the NLRB said, in the run-up to the election the police presence both inside the plant and outside (thanks to the Bladen Sheriff's office) was deliberately suffocating to the organizers and designed to intimidate those workers--immigrants especially--who might be thinking about voting pro-union.

Then, just after the votes were tallied, the NLRB found, the Smithfield cops helped mug two union activists, dragged them out of the plant in handcuffs and arrested them on phony charges that were later dropped for lack of evidence. The two won damages of $755,000 from Priest and Smithfield in a civil jury trial; their award, however, was overturned on legal technicalities by a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals panel.

The NLRB ordered a new election, and though Smithfield's appealing its ruling in the courts, and in particular the part that says the election must be held somewhere other than the plant, the UFCW's already begun a third organizing drive.

Raleigh.Durham Independent, July 20, 2005

Smithfield lost the appeal in May of last year, just one month before signing on to the government's new IMAGE program

Gene Bruskin, an organizer for the union, said the company had started to cooperate closely with immigration authorities after a walkout by immigrant workers last summer. “My concern is the company is using the immigration issue to manipulate this long fight over workers’ rights,” Mr. Bruskin said.

Tension over the workers’ immigration status has been running high at the plant since November, when more than 500 employees stayed away for two days after the company fired about 50 workers it said had used false Social Security numbers when they were hired. The walkout was unusual for a nonunion plant.


The union claims that the company is using the raids as a precursor to a larger action where they will be firing all of the workers who walked out last November regardless of immigration status .

The statement from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) says, in part: The arrests of the 21 Smithfield workers by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) comes on the heels of the company announcement that it will fire up to 600 people next month, primarily those who walked out in protest last November over the firings of fellow employees allegedly for receiving social security no match letters.”

The union says the arrests “may also be in violation of ICE's own instructions which preclude the agency from facilitating the use of immigration laws of enforcement to intervene in the course of a labor dispute.”


The timing of this newest round of raids is not lost on immigration reform advocates and the labor activists. Particularly those like the UFCW who support the legalization of the 12 million undocumented immigrants already living and working in the country, but oppose President Bush's plan for a temporary worker program. The government has a long history of using increased enforcement as a method to garner political support for immigration reform measures.

ICE's pressure campaign recalls the history of immigration enforcement during previous periods when anti-immigration bills were debated the U.S. Congress, as they were this year.

Before 1986, the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service conducted months of high-profile workplace raids, called Operation Jobs. INS used the raids to produce public support for the employer sanctions provision later written into the 1986 immigration law.

In 1998, the INS mounted a huge enforcement action in Nebraska, also targeting meatpacking workers, called Operation Vanguard. Mark Reed, then INS District Director in Dallas, was open about its purpose -- to get industry and Congress to support new bracero-type contract labor programs. "That's where we're going," he said in an interview at the time. “We depend on foreign labor. If we don't have illegal immigration anymore, we'll have the political support for guest workers."

Today, ICE and the Bush administration also have an immigration program they want Congress to approve. Once again they want new guest-worker schemes, along with increased enforcement of employer sanctions.

"Justice Deported", American Prospect.

This present case seems to be an attempt to send even a stronger message. Either unions like the UFCW get on board with Bush's guest worker program, or not only will they be targeted …the government appears to be more than willing to do the employers dirty work and help break them.


Anonymous said...

Wow, great research, Duke.

BTW, I've been meaning to tell you how much I like the new site.

mariachi mama

Duke1676 said...

Thanks Mama,

I'm working on tying this all together into one megapost to put up over at the orange place and some other of the more popular liberal/progressive sites.

It's really starting to look like the raids are being used for a multiple of purposes having little to do with their stated intent.

Mark said...

Look at the problems that the unions have caused in the north. Plants going bankrupt, people losing their jobs and pensions, driving prices of everything up. Almost every industry that is unionized is currently in serious trouble. The airlines, automobile makers and steelworkers are just three examples. I live near the Tarheel plant and I have worked there in the past. We do not need unions forcing their way into our county.

Thank you,

Mark Todd