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NY: Protecting Labor Rights by Protecting Immigrants

New York's high court ruled this last week that undocumented workers injured on the job had the right to sue employers over the unsafe working conditions that led to those injuries. Not only would barring such lawsuits encourage less safe working conditions, stated the court's majority, it would actually make hiring undocumented workers more attractive, since such workers would have no legal rights to hold the employer accountable:
"An absolute bar to recovery of lost wages by an undocumented worker would lessen the unscrupulous employer's potential liability to its alien workers and make it more financially attractive to hire undocumented aliens," [said Judge Victoria A. Graffeo, writing for the majority.] "This," she added, "coupled with the fact that illegal aliens are willing to work in jobs that are more dangerous and undesirable -- and for less money -- than their legal immigrant and citizen counterparts, would actually increase employment levels of undocumented aliens, not decrease it as Congress sought by its passage of IRCA [federal immigration law]."
Many workers fear immigrants are driving down wages in industries that they enter. Counterintuitively, the best way to prevent this wage depression from happening is not to punish the immigrants but to strengthen their rights. As the high court in New York emphasized, the stronger the rights of the immigrants, the less likely employers will undermine labor rights for all workers.