Immigrant's Rights Campaign
Baldemar Velasquez on "Remembering
the Alamo", NAFTA and Immigrant Workers in America
Workers Deliver Proposal for Legalization to AFL-CIO President John
Proposal for Immigration Reform press release from the Farm Labor
Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO
Immigrant Airport Workers! -- article by Millie Phillips,
member of the Airport Screeners Support Committee in San Francisco
(reprinted from the March-April 2002 issue of The Organizer newspaper)
Model Resolution passed by
ILWU -- "Resolution in support of
Immigrant Airport Baggage Screeners"
Resolution Passed by the Labor Immigrant Organizing Network
(LION) -- "Resolution in Defense of Airport Security Screeners and
Immigrant Workers" (April 23, 2002)
May Day 2002 in DC: Immigrants
Exercise Democracy - National Day of Action and Legislative Advocacy
Organized by the National Coalition for Dignity and Amnesty for Immigrants,
by Beatriz Maya (FLOC)
Please Support the
National Petition for "Amnesty for All Undocumented Immigrants
and Full Labor Rights for All Workers!"
Defend Immigrant Airport
by Millie Phillips
SAN FRANCISCO - Attacks on immigrant workers are among the many
features of U.S. government policy following the September 11th tragedy.
One example is the attack on non-citizen airport baggage screeners, who
are now considered a threat to U.S. security.
Thanks to a provision in the new Aviation Transportation Security Act (ATSA),
all baggage screeners will be laid off no later than November 19 of this
year and forced to reapply for their jobs. This is outrageous enough in
itself. But the worst is that no non-citizens may apply, so workers who
are not currently citizens will permanently lose their jobs.
On top of that, the ATSA contains a clause defining the new, federally
employed screeners as "at will" employees with a similar status
to military personnel. The legal staff of the Service Employees
International Union (SEIU) interprets this clause as banning unionization
of screeners. While only a handful of screeners are organized, these
screeners will be forced out of their union and no other union will be
Despite a legal challenge to the constitutionality of the citizenship
requirement and a proposed bill that would require the new screeners'
citizenship to be handled the same way as that of military staff (i.e.,
non-citizens may serve), there is very little chance that the ATSA can be
repealed, overturned, or modified in time to save any jobs. Some workers
at the San Francisco Airport (SFO) will be laid off within days.
Ironically, ATSA is creating 28,000 new, living-wage, federal (public)
jobs, which would normally be something to support. But these jobs will
not be available to many of the workers presently doing the work and will
be non-union by law. Only 20% of SFO screeners, who are among the very few
working under a union contract, will be eligible to apply for the new
The alleged motivation of this law is to improve airport security in
the aftermath of September 11. But in addition to being anti-immigrant and
anti-union, ATSA will also undermine airport security. Local politicians
and airport commissioners in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles
are asking to have their airports exempted from the law because of the
disastrous affect ASTA will have on safely running these airports, where a
large majority of the screeners are non-citizens.
There is no evidence at all that any baggage screeners, citizen or not,
are security risks. Screeners could not have prevented the 9-11 attacks.
The box cutters allegedly used by the hijackers could legally be taken on
airplanes at the time. Under increased scrutiny, a few baggage screeners
have been fired for failing to report minor criminal convictions or
falsifying information on job applications.
While such minor actions are hardly uncommon in any job field, they are
now retroactively criminal offenses for which these workers can be
prosecuted, as well as being fired. However, none to our knowledge have
been charged with any terrorist act or plan. In fact, laying off large
numbers of screeners seriously jeopardizes airport security because they
will be replaced by new, inexperienced workers who may not have the
knowledge to recognize dangerous situations.
Laying off unionized screeners is an even greater security risk because,
unlike non-union screeners, they have a low turnover rate and thus are the
most experienced and committed. ATSA also denies "whistleblower"
protection to workers. Thus, if there is corruption involving airport
security, workers would be unprotected if they spoke out.
While it is important to oppose citizenship requirements for any job, one
should note the irony involved in singling out the baggage screeners.
Other airport workers such as pilots, flight attendants, and ticket
agents, also play an important role in airport security, but are not
subject to citizenship requirements. Even members of the armed services
deployed as airport security are not required to be U.S. citizens. A bill
introduced by Representative Zoe Lofgren, the Military Personnel Standards
Act, addresses this issue by demanding parity between screeners and
military personnel regarding citizenship.
Why are screeners targeted?
So why is the government singling out the screeners? I believe that
the screeners are being attacked first precisely because they are
vulnerable. They are mostly immigrants of color. Nationally, around 25%
are not citizens. (In the San Francisco Bay area, 85% of baggage screeners
are Filipino or Filipino-American. Approximately 80% are not U.S.
citizens. The majority are women.)
These workers are notoriously low-paid, earning barely over minimum wage
in most airports. Few U.S. citizens, with greater job opportunities, would
be willing to work for such low pay, which is why these jobs are performed
mostly by immigrants. While a handful of screeners are organized (e.g.,
the SFO screeners are members of SEIU 790), most are not. However, ongoing
organizing efforts have been conducted at the other two major airports in
the Bay Area (Oakland and San Jose).
ATSA obviously undermines union organizing, and it strengthens the
government's ability to eliminate civil liberties for all workers, through
the age-old divide-and-conquer strategy. Under the present wave of
anti-immigrant hysteria, the government must feel that it can get away
with victimizing the screeners; perhaps it thinks they are too weak to
fight back. By using the 9-11 tragedy as an excuse to racially profile
them as security threats, perhaps it thinks other workers will not support
them. A successful attack on them will pave the way for future attacks on
more privileged airport workers and on the civil liberties of all people
living in the United States.
Understandably, the workers are afraid. They fear being fired should
they attempt to openly organize against the law while on the job. A worker
who is fired rather than being laid off loses unemployment benefits, and
this is major concern for low-income workers. While many workers believe
that job actions at the airport might be an effective way to call
attention to the immediacy and severity of their plight, they rightfully
fear retaliation, and thus far, have been reluctant to take any direct
action at work.
Nonetheless, baggage screeners are fighting back in other ways. They have
organized demonstrations, a petition drive directed to the Department of
Transportation, lobbying events, and press conferences, resulting in
coverage in major newspapers such as the San Jose Mercury News. Workers in
San Francisco and Los Angeles have filed suit against the new law. Their
political organizing has gained the attention of a few politicians, such
as Zoe Lofgren, though her bill is getting almost no support in Congress
and fails to address the union-busting aspects of ATSA.
Most importantly, they are educating and organizing among themselves and
they are reaching out to other workers, unions, and communities for
support. Under the auspices of SEIU 790, SFO screeners have organized a
large support committee. Even the non-union screeners in Oakland and San
Jose have put together active support committees. As victims of the
"war on terrorism," they have also linked up with the antiwar
movement. An airport screener spoke at the April 20th anti-war
demonstration in San Francisco, for example.
Central labor councils, major unions, and community organizations have
passed resolutions supporting the screeners. The International Longshore
and Warehouse Union (ILWU) passed an excellent resolution which other
union have been using as a model. A new, more comprehensive resolution
drafted by the Labor Immigrant Organizing Network (LION) is now being
circulated. We urge all supporters of labor and democratic rights to get
organizations in their areas to pass similar resolutions and to get
involved with any local support work. [See resolutions below.]
Debate over strategy
Unfortunately, the screeners face great odds winning this battle.
Ultimately it will take more than lobbying and passing resolutions to save
screener jobs for non-citizens and defend unionization. With input from
the support committees, the workers are presently debating their strategy.
The SFO and Oakland support committees take a firm position that the
bottom-line issue in this fight is getting rid of the anti-immigrant
citizenship requirement. This is counterposed to a more conservative
position taken by the Bay Area Organizing Network (BAOC), a
religious/labor community coalition, which, without any input from the
workers involved but with support from the head of SEIU 790, got several
local politicians to publicly pledge support to a limited list of demands
that do not call for overturning the citizenship requirement.
On their face, as a fall-back position or as an interim set of demands to
make while fighting for the broader issues, these demands are supportable.
They ask for citizen screeners to have priority in the re-hiring process,
for non-citizens to have a provisional employment status should they agree
to become citizens, for the INS to expedite citizenship applications, for
laid off workers to get funding for re-retraining and job placement, and
for exemptions from ATSA for Bay Area airports.
Many screeners applaud BAOC's proposals as immediate demands that will
save some workers' jobs now. As such, we in Socialist Organizer don't
advocate opposing the BAOC proposals themselves, but we can and must
challenge BAOC's undemocratic and compromising strategy.
Thanks to the BAOC proposals, workers are being pressured to drop the
demand to eliminate the citizen requirement and to settle for BAOC's
minimum demands because they are called "realistic" by local
labor and community leaders with close ties to the Democratic Party. We
believe that the real motivation of BAOC is to avoid confrontation with
Democratic Party politicians, such as San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown,
who do not want to challenge the "war on terrorism." BAOC,
though ostensibly a labor coalition, doesn't even mention the
union-busting aspect of ATSA.
Socialist Organizer sees this debate as yet one more example of why
workers need our own Labor Party: a party that will defend our interests
and not have to rely on our employers' politicians.
Bay Area readers should contact the Immigrant Airport Workers Solidarity
Committee: Call Daz Lamparas at SEIU 790, 415 575-1740, ext. 116. Email: Dlamparas@SEIU790.org.
We must stop this attempt to scapegoat immigrant workers. Who will be next
if we don't resist now?
[Note: Millie Phillips is an active member of the Airport Screeners
Support Committee in San Francisco. She is also a member of the editorial
board of The Organizer newspaper.]
Model Resolution Passed by
Resolution in support of Immigrant Airport Baggage Screeners
WHEREAS, the Aviation Transportation Security Act, signed into law by
President George W. Bush on November 19, 2001, requires that all airport
baggage screeners be US citizens; and,
WHEREAS, more than 80 percent of airport baggage screeners in the Bay Area
are legal immigrants; and,
WHEREAS, the Aviation Transportation Security Act unfairly discriminates
against immigrant baggage screeners; and,
WHEREAS, replacing immigrant airport screeners, some of whom have up to 12
years experience, with new employees does not improve the quality of
airport safety, but will instead undermine it; and
WHEREAS, the Union in San Francisco airport has vastly improved the wages
and working conditions of the airport baggage screeners, both immigrant
and nonimmigrant; and
WHEREAS, the Aviation Transportation Security Act is part of a grossly
unfair attack on civil liberties, immigrants and workers stemming from the
War on Terrorism ;
BE IT RESOLVED, THEREFORE, that the ILWU urges the US Congress to amend
the law immediately and waive the citizenship requirement for airport
baggage screeners; and,
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the ILWU is committed to organizing, in
however much is possible, with other groups against unjust attacks on
Resolution Passed by the Labor Immigrant Organizing Network (LION)
Resolution in Defense of Airport Security Screeners and Immigrant Workers
(April 23, 2002)
WHEREAS: The Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA), signed on
November 19, 2001, requires all airport security screeners to be U.S.
WHEREAS: At San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Los Angeles
International Airport (LAX) security screeners successfully joined unions
in recent years. The enforcement of ATSA will result in the denial of
union protection to screeners who have fought to organize. It will put the
government in opposition to their right to win that protection. Many of
these union members - and thousands of other non-union screeners at other
airports will lose their jobs. And
WHEREAS: Two years ago the AFL-CIO withdrew its support for employer
sanctions against undocumented immigrant workers and called for the law's
repeal. The federation said that enforcing immigration law in the
workplace resulted in discrimination against workers, and gave employers a
weapon to use against union organizing efforts. In taking this position,
the AFL-CIO called on immigrant workers to join unions, and committed
unions to defending their rights. And
WHEREAS: The citizenship requirement for screeners challenges labor to
breathe life into its commitment to stand on the side of immigrant
workers. The firing of all non-citizen security screeners will have a
chilling effect on other immigrant workers at airports around the country.
The citizenship requirement for screeners will encourage the adoption of
citizenship requirements for other jobs, and foster an atmosphere of
intimidation and immigration raids in airports and elsewhere.
WHEREAS: The Labor Immigrant Organizing Network (LION) supports all unions
and constituency groups affiliated with the AFL-CIO in their efforts to
take strong action against these firings. By fighting for the jobs of the
screeners, and against discriminatory citizenship requirements, unions are
protecting their own ability to organize other immigrant workers in the
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED: That the citizenship requirement for airport
screeners should be repealed. During the period in which it is being
enforced, however, government must also come to the aid of these workers,
and provide extended unemployment benefits and other safety net
provisions, including employment re-training and job placement. Displaced
screeners must be given extended recall rights to any future screener
positions for which they are qualified.
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED: That as trade unionists we oppose making
citizenship a requirement to hold any job. Immigrants have helped to build
our nation. Requiring citizenship does not recognize that contribution,
and instead is an attack on the livelihood of working immigrants in our
communities. It leads to discrimination and government attacks on other
workers in the name of national security, without increasing security or
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED: That unions should come to the aid of these
workers through their Community Services Departments, giving the same
priority to displaced immigrant workers that they do to any other
displaced union brother or sister. Unions should cooperate with immigrant
advocates and community service providers, many of whom are already trying
to aid these workers. Wherever possible, unions organizing at the airports
should discuss the possibility of placing displaced screeners in other
airport jobs, thereby providing seeds for current and future organizing
Baldemar Velasquez on "Remembering the Alamo," NAFTA and
Immigrant Workers in America (May 2004)
Dear Sisters and Brothers:
Please find below the opening presentation by Baldemar Velasquez,
president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee/FLOC (AFL-CIO), at a
Bi-National Dialogue sponsored by the Mexican Senate on April 25, 2004.
Brother Velasquez is a member of the Continuations Committee of the Open
World Conference. He recently sent greetings to the April 24 Conference in
Mexicali in Defense of Maquiladora Workers and Against the FTAA. [See
Mexicali Report, Part 1.]
Brother Velasquez has informed the OWC Continuations Committee that he
will be organizing a trip to Mexico in September or October of this year
with a delegation of activist students involved in FLOC's Mt. Olive
boycott. They will be visiting the widow of Urbano Ramirez in the state of
Guerrero. Ramirez, a migrant worker, was found dead in the fields of North
Carolina. [For more information about the increasing number of deaths of
immigrant farm workers in the United States, and/or to help with the Mt.
Olive boycott, please visit FLOC's attractive website at
Brother Velasquez also informs us that while in Mexico he will also lobby
high Mexican officials and make specific recommendations on what can be
done immediately to alleviate immigrant worker exploitation in the United
Thanks for your ongoing support for the campaigns of the Continuations
Committee of the Open World Conference.
Ed Rosario and Alan Benjamin,
OWC Continuations Committee
San Francisco Labor Council (AFL-CIO)
"Remembering the Alamo"
By Baldemar Velasquez, President, FLOC (AFL-CIO)
The ongoing debate on immigration within the United States has become a
central issue with the Latino population in this election year. But like
past debates, it ignores the sordid history of America's economic
imperative that has driven public policy since the days of the original
thirteen colonies. It also contradicts American claims of a predominantly
Christian people as we lapse with moral blind spots. Wars of conquest and
domination of land and people, genocidal policies of the indigenous people
and how can we forget the rationalization in American history textbooks of
the policy of "Manifest Destiny."
It is embarrassing that American moviemakers perpetuate this part of
America's character by depicting the Anglo as hero and the people of color
as a villain, comic or servant. The latest movie to hit the screens in the
United States that goes to the heart of the immigration issue between the
U.S. and Mexico is the latest version of the "Alamo."
This sample of revisionist history has always portrayed Bowie, Travis,
Crockett and company as "freedom fighters", fighting for freedom
and liberty against the bad dictatorship of General Santa Anna. While I
don't believe for a minute that Santa Anna was a saint, the Alamo
defenders were high stakes players for Anglo supremacy and slavery! The
father of the "Republic of Texas", Stephen Austin already had
5000 slaves on his colony by 1836. Naturally, the constitution of the
proclaimed Republic of Texas, which the Alamo was defending,
institutionalized the practice. It was not complicated that these men knew
the meaning of free or cheap land with free or cheap labor would realize a
quick accumulation of wealth. Had the outcome of the subsequent
Mexican-American war been different or never happened, we would not be
arguing today about Mexicans' ability to return to San Antonio or any
other city founded by Mexicans.
Today, those English-speaking hordes from the east with the different
culture, don't have to invade Taumalipas, Sonora, Chihuahua or any other
Mexican State and proclaim another Republic since with today's high
financial schemes, the rich don't have to own the land or slaves to have
domination and control.
My own grandparents, landless peasants, migrated to the Rio GrandeValley
during the tumultuous Mexican Revolution of 1910. Even then, the Americans
were playing the contending Mexican factions for economic advantage.
Remember that President Woodrow Wilson sent the marines to take the port
of Veracruz and delivered it to Carranza's forces to give him the arms
flow advantage over their other revolutionary partners that were Villa and
I grew up migrating the agricultural harvest routes with my parents like
their parents before them. Many times we were indentured to the farmers
and labor contractors much like the H2A and undocumented workers of today
are to their recruiters and coyotes. But the policies that kept us in
servitude have never really changed regardless of the cosmetic protective
legislation that is periodically inspired in the American Congress. I say
cosmetic because of the lack of enforcement and the cumbersome
complaint-driven procedures. With no timely resolution and no protection
from retaliation, migrant workers never have a chance to defend
themselves. There are particular industries that lust for a global pool of
cheap, exploitable labor that have continually driven our social and
governmental policies. From the Republic of Texas to NAFTA, the result is
the same; wealth for selected individuals, poverty and oppression for a
vast amount of people.
A report issued by the Carnegie Endowment last year showed that the net
result of the NAFTA agreement has led to the destruction of 1.3 million
Mexican farms. NAFTA has opened the border to highly mechanized and
subsidized corn which Mexican farmers can never hope to compete with. The
American corn is also a threat to the diversity of the species with its
handful of genetically engineered like hybrids. The shrinking of the
genetic pool of seed also limits the variety of disease-resistance
opportunities. The stakes to the environment are also enormous. This is
reckless profit mongering that has enormous consequences for the
continent's food system.
Like my parents and grandparents, these new displaced peasants' only
option to survive is to migrate to the cities of Mexico or cross to the
United States for the menial jobs that Americans don't want and will not
I can continue to chronicle a list of sins of the nation from the many
broken treaties with our American Indians, the national trauma-causing
slavery to the current black market in human smuggling. In the state of
North Carolina alone there are almost 400,000 Mexicans and Guatemalans
working in four basic industries. Agriculture, Landscaping, Construction
and Poultry. Just about every one of them paid between $1200.00 to
$3000.00 to get smuggled there. Can one grasp that this becomes a
multi-billion dollar industry! In one state!
It is not my intention to foment anti-American sentiment, but to admit
truth from which we can find direction and become the great nation we
claim to be.
I encourage everyone to capitalize on some of America's positive
First, I believe that the general American population possesses a sense of
fair play and generally believes in justice. Mexico must forcefully
declare its historic grievances as an independent and proud people. To
many observers, including myself, previous Mexican Administrations have
appeared timid and soft in advocating for its people. Not unlike a
co-dependant struggling in a bad relationship. Why do we (Mexicans and
Mexican-Americans) tolerate the deaths on the border and in the workplaces
recently documented by a national Associated Press story by Justin
Prichard. According to the AP, there is now one Mexican dying per day in
the United States. If these were Americans dying in Mexico, many heads
would be rolling and perhaps see another intervention of U.S. troops into
Mexico. I do not believe that Americans like this happening in their
country, but it takes a lot of work to educate and mobilize the public.
I do believe that most Americans truly believe in freedom and justice, it
becomes our challenge to explain to them how to extend it to all Mexicans
and immigrants while answering their fears. I do not believe that they
would want to amend their pledge of allegiance to the flag by saying
freedom and justice "for some."
Secondly, there is much to be gained by invoking the Christian Gospel in
these matters since the majority of Americans claim Christianity.
Righteousness and Justice are intertwined in the Scriptures and if these
dictate the life-style of the Christian then it favors our struggle for
justice. From the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers (Chapter 15:15 says
that the people of God must govern the alien with the same laws that they
govern themselves) to the New Testament, where we are commanded to treat
the alien like our native born and to be as the alien because we are
citizens of His Kingdom and not of this world. Many times I have told
audiences that if they oppose our legalization efforts of the undocumented
not to argue with me but to take it up with God!
Throughout history an occasional man or woman rises up and gives hope to
the world because all humankind desires peace and happiness. I was
fortunate to meet two of these people in the same year during my early
organizing career in 1969. One was Martin Luther King Jr. and the other
was Cesar Chavez. Both men had one thing in common; they were both sold
out to the cause, which they believed in. Both fought against the ravages
of racial and economic oppression, explained and revealed it to the
American consciousness through fasts, boycotts, marches and strikes.
Engaged in civil disobedience and endured arrests, harassment and
countless lawsuits yet insisting on the practice of non-violence. Both
galvanized the American public to their side and achieved breath-taking
break-throughts in civil and labor rights. I say to you today, where are
those new Martin Luther Kings and Cesar Chavezs'?
It is not arrogance to proclaim that Mexico has paid its dues to the
United States through land forfeiture, not to speak of the minerals and
precious metals that went with the land, and the supply of labor which
Mexico bore the cost of raising to working age. Perhaps we need to conduct
a BI-national march of solidarity and perform civil-disobedience by
re-taking the Alamo and spend some time in jail declaring a cancellation
of the Mexican debt or at least just compensation for the millions of
Mexicans performing the menial jobs that accommodate the comfort of
Americans. I tell you the truth there are those economic interests who
would want to perpetuate a global low-wage work force and maintain the
pool of exploitable labor of Mexicans in the United States and Mexico.
This will not change by diplomatic initiatives. Those that derive their
wealth with predatory and selfish calculatedness with the misery, poverty
and helplessness of the working poor are powerful but not invincible.
We learned from King and Chavez that the powerful can be negotiated with
when we succeed in impeding their ability to make money. This takes much
patience, time and creativity and few are those long-distance runners who
have the endurance of heart to persist in a right and good cause. It was
Jesus who taught us how when he exhorts his disciples in John 15:12-13 to
love one another as He loved them, and that the greatest love is he who
lays down his live for his friend.
Perhaps King and Chavez didn't choose their lives, it was perhaps the
upheaval of the people that chose them but they had to be willing. Who
today is willing to question the paradigms of debate and ask what seems so
absurdly simple and impossible in demanding the freedom of travel to a
land that is so familiar in names and people. If the heart is righteous
and strong, the ideas will come to make it happen. If you have faith, it
will be as scripture tells us, "the substance of things hoped for,
the evidence of things not seen." And if the faith is as small as a
mustard seed, you can tell a mountain to move into the water and it shall
King and Chavez had those sentiments, that is why people flocked to them
and together made mountains move.
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