Undocumented Workers Have Rights, Represent Value to California Economy


Sacramento, CA: While undocumented workers and illegal immigrants have been taking a pounding (primarily from the Republican candidate) in the US Presidential election, the fact remains that undocumented workers in California make up ten percent of the State’s overall work force and represents a contribution of $130 billion to the gross domestic product in the State.

While those numbers are two years old, stemming from a joint study by the University of Southern California and the California Immigrant Policy Center (CIPC), the numbers reflect the importance undocumented workers bring to the California economy – especially those industries such as agriculture which depend heavily on the undocumented worker.

Undocumented workers also have status, with certain rights under the California Labor Code, and free to participate in litigation against defendants who stand accused of mistreatment. To that end, a California wage and hour suit was brought against the operator of a California restaurant by two allegedly undocumented workers attempting to hold their employer accountable for nonpayment of wages.

The plaintiffs in the case are Misael and Sergio Avila; the defendant, Naimat Kadah International. A California magistrate in district court awarded the plaintiffs $33,000 in back wages for overtime without preconditions for payment. While the original ruling has since come under a subsequent ruling by the Ninth Circuit with regard to the inclusion of payroll taxes, the fact remains that courts take allegations of wrongdoing on the part of undocumented workers with equal fervor to those of documented works – or for that matter, native Californians and citizens of the State.

It should be noted that the original settlement was struck in 2012. Following several months of waiting for the settlement to be paid, the plaintiffs filed a motion to have the settlement enforced.

The case is Misael Avila, et al v. Naimat Kadah International, et al, Case No. 13-17075, in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Donald Trump, in both his campaign for the Republican nomination and more recently as the Republican Presidential nominee, has maligned the value of undocumented workers, casting them as villains taking jobs away from Americans and US citizens. The Trump campaign advocates deportation, and the campaign also questions the value of immigration. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, in turn, accused the Trump campaign of hypocrisy given various data that shows undocumented workers were part of a larger, unionized work force hired to raze a building in Manhattan for the eventual construction of Trump Tower.

The Tampa Bay Times (10/20/16), which rated Hilary Clinton’s claims in this regard as factual, noted that undocumented Polish workers were hired to toil alongside unionized workers to flesh out the demolition work force. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the undocumented workers were paid ‘off the books’ at a rate of $4 to $5 per hour for 12-hour daily shifts, without overtime pay.

While deportations do occur in California – the CIPC study in 2014 noted that some 117,000 deportations were carried out in recent years in the State – the fact remains that undocumented workers are viewed as integral to the economy of the state, with protections of workers’ rights under California labor law advancing on an ongoing basis.

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