Undocumented Workers Integral to California Economy


Camarillo, CA: A decision in a wage and hour lawsuit in New York not only carries positive implications for any undocumented worker in the state of California who may feel wronged by an employer, it also lends itself to the depth and breadth of the undocumented workforce in the Golden state.

The New York lawsuit was David Rosas et al v. Alice’s Tea Cup, LLC, Case No. 1:14-cv-08788-JCF, filed July 6, 2015 in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. The plaintiffs brought wage and hour claims against their employer, citing violations to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and other labor laws recognized by the state of New York. The defendant came back with a request for the plaintiffs to verify their immigration status, which the plaintiffs fought on grounds that immigration status was irrelevant to the matters at hand.

The judge in the case agreed, noting in his decision that the risk of injury to the plaintiffs and the potential for intimidation outweighed the probative value of revealing immigration status for reasons of credibility. To wit, US Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV in his decision noted that “federal courts have made clear that the protections of the FLSA are available to citizens and undocumented workers alike.”

Such a decision translates into a positive for both the undocumented worker in the state of California, and the state economy in general. That’s because undocumented workers - especially those who work in the agricultural community - make up a significant portion of the state economy.

The Ventura County Star (9/13/15) reports that agriculture is a $2 billion industry in Ventura County. To that end, the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) reports that an estimated 15,000 undocumented immigrants work the fields in Ventura County alone. Using data from the Census Bureau and Public Policy Institute of California, CAUSE estimates there are more than 72,000 undocumented immigrants in the county, about 9 percent of the population.

That’s a significant number. “To put that into context, that’s more than the population of the city of Camarillo,” said Maricela Morales, executive director of CAUSE, in comments published in the Star. “What if we woke up and the entire population of Camarillo was gone? The impact on our county economically and the social fabric of our community...it would be devastating.”

The issue has relevance given the crosshairs of rhetoric undocumented workers appear to be caught within - especially in the context of the Republican nomination debates, and various positions taken by some of the candidates and one in particular who has pledged to deport all undocumented workers from whence they came. This, in spite of the fact that the FLSA and related agencies in the state of California specifically reference the undocumented worker and affords them protections by way of wage and hour laws that protect all workers in the state of California, even undocumented workers regardless of whether or not they are legally authorized to work in the United States.

The undocumented worker who may feel maligned in the state would no doubt be cheered by a recent settlement in a class-action lawsuit reached with the help of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union, which partnered with table grape workers at Sunview Vineyards. According to Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights who was writing in the Sacramento Bee (9/24/15), the settlement was worth $4.5 million.

Frank Barajas, a history professor at California State University Channel Islands, noted in the Star that “the majority of people working in our fields are undocumented,” he said, adding that mass deportations such as those recently debated amongst the Republican nominees would translate to “a complete collapse of our state economy.”

The takeaway for the undocumented worker: you have rights, both federally and in the state of California. And your presence is important to and adds value to the state economy. Any undocumented worker or group of workers who suspect violations of state wage and hour laws, or other statutes both state-centric and federal under the FLSA, would be encouraged to take advantage of rights and protections afforded you and fight for your due.

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