The Seattle Office of Labor Standards Joins Multistate Coalition in Support of Federal Effort to Prioritize Workplace Rights and Safety in Immigration Enforcement

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The Seattle Office of Labor Standards Joins Multistate Coalition in Support of Federal Effort to Prioritize Workplace Rights and Safety in Immigration Enforcement

The Seattle Office of Labor Standards (OLS) today joined a coalition of 11 attorneys general — as well as several local agencies across the country — in a letter in support of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) plan to change its worksite enforcement practices supporting enforcement of wage protections, workplace safety, labor rights, and other employment laws and standards. In the letter, the coalition highlights several key recommendations to ensure that DHS’ immigration enforcement policies and practices facilitate the ability of state and local labor enforcement officials to advance fair labor standards.

 “OLS is committed to serving all of Seattle's workers by ensuring their rights under the City’s labor standards. This includes the rights of our most vulnerable workers- Immigrants and Refugees. Many of these workers put their own health and safety (and the health and safety of their families) at risk while working on the front lines during the pandemic. OLS proudly stands with this coalition of enforcement entities from across the nation as staff work to ensure businesses comply with Seattle labor laws and bring to light the large number of labor violations that go unreported,” said Steven Marchese, OLS Director.

State and local labor enforcement agencies investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate thousands of work-related claims against employers who illegally suppress labor standards and intimidate workers from exercising their rights. The key role played by state and local entities in labor enforcement makes them indispensable partners in any effort to develop immigration enforcement protocols that prioritize the need to protect the rights of workers. Further, immigrants make up a significant proportion of the workforce in the coalition’s respective states and cities. Many vital industries depend on immigrant workers to meet their labor demands and provide critical services and goods to our communities. At the same time, immigrant workers, especially those who are unauthorized to work in the United States, are particularly susceptible to abusive and unlawful labor conditions, and are especially vulnerable when bringing these violations to light. As a result, workers can be reluctant or even decline to pursue a case or testify in a legal proceeding out of fear that their employer would respond by reporting them or their family members to immigration authorities.

In the letter, the coalition — to advance the mutual goals of ensuring workplaces across the nation comply with labor laws, protecting working conditions, and standing up for the rights and dignity of workers — urges DHS to consider several recommendations in its new effort, including to:

  • Create a clear process for prosecutorial discretion for workers cooperating with labor law enforcement agencies;
  • Make it explicit that state and local agencies that enforce workplace laws can certify S, T, and U Visas;
  • Limit enforcement based on potentially retaliatory tips from employers and inform the public that DHS’ hotline should not be used for such purposes;
  • Refrain from immigration enforcement activities at state or local labor departments or courthouses;
  • Establish clear points of contact for state and local labor enforcement agencies to quickly address concerns and support effective communication with DHS;
  • Take steps to ensure immigrant workers and communities have access to information about their rights and protections;
  • Support private actions to facilitate the enforcement of labor laws, extending protection to immigrant victims of and witnesses to labor violations; and
  • Provide state and local labor enforcement agencies with access to witnesses held in civil immigration detention.

In sending the letter, the Seattle Office of Labor Standards joins the Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, the Attorneys General of California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York; the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection; together with the Attorneys General of Delaware, New Jersey, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Washington, and the District of Columbia; the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office (MA), Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office (MI), Chicago Office of Labor Standards, and City of Philadelphia.

A copy of the letter is available here.