April has seen two major industrial accidents that have captured the national eye. Explosions at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia and the Deepwater Horizon oil rig off the coast of Louisiana claimed the lives of forty workers and injured thirty-eight. Much of the media attention
on these tragedies has focused on the culpability of employers and enforcement capacity at federal agencies responsible for regulating mine and offshore
drilling safety. However, there are proactive steps states can take to address occupational safety hazards and ensure people do not have to sacrifice their personal safety in exchange for a paycheck.
NEW YORK — The Progressive States Network, a national network
of state legislators and advocates, is in full support of Labor
Secretary Hilda Solis’ new priorities for the department. In her
remarks yesterday at a press conference with New Jersey Governor Jon
Corzine, Solis reiterated her commitment to ensure basic protections
for all workers, native and immigrant alike.
Solis has committed the Labor Department to investigating wage and
hour law violations by employers and health and safety concerns. This
much needed policy will help address the pervasive problems of the
underground economy by preventing unscrupulous employers from
threatening and exploiting undocumented workers, thus maintaining
higher labor standards for all.
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson recently signed a wage enforcement bill (H 489)
to allow underpaid workers to collect their back wages plus twice that
amount in damages. The bill was backed by community groups and labor
unions as well as the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.
New Mexico now becomes the eighth state that allows workers to collect
treble damages against employers violating the minimum wage — a key
deterrent to employers to ensure compliance with the minimum wage.
JERSEY CITY, NJ — At a press conference this morning, Gov. Jon Corzine
unveiled the results of his Blue Ribbon Panel on Immigration Policy,
which included recommendations for the establishment of an Office on
New Americans to help integrate immigrant families into the state’s
culture and work force. Policy experts at the Progressive States
Network (PSN) were quick to praise the panel’s recommendations, which
they placed within an emerging trend among state lawmakers to include
working immigrant families into plans for shared economic growth.
According to PSN Interim Executive Director Nathan Newman, who authored
a comprehensive 50-state analysis of state immigration policy last
September, “The story that states are rushing out to punish
undocumented immigrants is really a smoke screen. When you look at the
facts, you see that more and more states are finding ways to integrate
immigrants into a growing workforce and thriving small business
community. States like New Jersey realize that there is a far better
economic future in working together than there is in dividing the
population against itself.”
President Obama's pick for secretary of labor, Rep. Hilda Solis, could
help shape a new approach to immigration control that emphasizes the
robust enforcement of labor laws.
Where the Bush administration stepped up workplace immigration
enforcement, sweeping up migrant workers and not always going after the
employers who illegally hire them, the Obama administration is expected
to take a different tack.
Immigrant advocates hope that strengthening compliance with
workplace health and safety laws and wage and hour standards - which
Solis promised in her hearing before the labor committee in January -
will protect workers in general and could reduce the likelihood that
some employers will seek to profit by hiring undocumented workers.