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A ticket to abuse

Valley employers fond of paying little regard to laws against hiring undocumented workers only received further encouragement thanks to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The court voted 5-4 recently to deny an illegal immigrant the same level of protection under American labor laws as other coworkers receive.

The court decided that a Mexican worker who had obtained his job fraudulently had no right to back pay after being fired for engaging in union activities. Firing on such grounds is illegal in the United States, and traditionally has entitled the victim to back pay.



The court instead decided that other sanctions, such as requiring the employer to prominently post a workplace notice regarding union rights, was adequate.

The court’s decision has suddenly opened up for question all levels of safeguards once thought to apply to all employees, but now suspect in the case of those not here legally.



Already there are pressing concerns that, in the valley as across much of the nation, employers are taking advantage of undocumented workers by denying overtime pay, under the assumption that the workers don’t know the law or are afraid to come forward with a complaint.

The dual-class system that has resulted is hard enough to combat even when the law makes dual treatment illegal. By turning a veritable blind eye to the problem in the recent case, the court only further sanctioned this system.

To our nation’s credit, even law-breakers are accorded basic human rights. Lord knows we would never tolerate the murder of illegal immigrants; why should we now all but condone lesser offenses against them?

One point of punishment for any wrongdoing, be it a violent crime or a workplace violation, is as much to ward off future offenses as it is to make things right with the victims. By failing to send the proper message to one employer, the high court invites others to get away with similar violations, knowing the penalty for getting caught is minimal.

The irony of this is that the court, in seeking to make a statement against illegal immigration, indirectly promotes it. Employers who think they can flout labor laws are more likely to seek cheaper, illegal help, adding to the market for this work force.

The United States must continue to boost enforcement of laws prohibiting people from coming to this country without authorization. But part of that enforcement process requires cutting off the demand by focusing on employers who hire these people on the sly.

Such enforcement has been way too lax already. And now the high court has further let up pressure on the employer side of the illegal immigration equation.

As a final irony, this case involved an illegal worker who sought the benefits of unionization. Until recently, labor interests had considered immigrant workers, both legal and illegal, a threat because they are a low-cost alternative to unions.

Now, as unions begin to curry the favor of a work force that has become too big to ignore, they find they have another enemy to fear – one that dresses in robes rather than overalls, and swings a gavel rather than a hammer.

– Dennis Webb, News Editor


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