Officials urge immigrants to report labor abuses
Federal, state and Mexican government officials are using the upcoming Labor Day holiday for a blitz to teach undocumented immigrants and temporary farm workers that they have basic labor rights — and should not be afraid to fight for them.
"All workers, regardless of their immigration status, have workplace rights under U.S. laws. They have to be respected," Eduardo Arnal, the Mexican consul to Utah, said in an all-Spanish press conference Monday, aimed mostly at local Spanish-language broadcasters.
He said bad bosses sometimes do not pay the wages they promise, ignore required overtime pay or fail to provide required medical care for accidents — and then threaten to somehow have workers deported if they complain to authorities.
Representatives from the Utah Labor Commission and the U.S. Department of Labor said workers should not fear such threats, and should bring their complaints to those agencies without fear. They said they are focused on enforcing labor laws, not immigration.
Kevin Hunt, assistant district director for the federal Labor Wage and Hour Division, said his agency does not even tell employers who filed complaints, or even whether a complaint was filed, when it decides to conduct inspections for such things as workplace safety or proper pay.
Elena Bensor, spokeswoman for the Utah Labor Commission, said her agency tries to help any worker who is mistreated, and to assist them in getting the pay or benefits to which they are entitled.
Both agencies noted they have employees who speak Spanish who can help Latinos in their native language.
"You don’t have to have fear. You can seek your rights," Arnal said, adding that the Mexican consulate is working hard to spread that message.
It will sponsor workshops all week at the consulate, 1380 S. Main, Salt Lake City, from a variety of agencies to explain how to pursue different types of labor complaints. More information is available on the consulate’s website, consulmex.sre.gob.mx/saltlakecity.
Arnal said if Latinos don’t know what agency to approach, "Come to the consulate because we can give adequate and official information about where you can get help" from U.S. agencies without having to hire an attorney.
The consulate does a similar outreach to workers around every Labor Day. "We can help them to realize their rights have to be respected no matter their immigration status," he said.