American & Immigrant Workers Against Guest Worker Program
American and immigrant workers in Tennessee come together against a long-standing guest worker program. Toribio Jimenez, an immigrant from El Salvador, and Robert Martin, a U.S. citizen, are among a dozen native and foreign workers who filed a lawsuit against Cumberland Environmental Resources Company of Brentwood, Tennessee and Accent Personnel Services Inc. for abusing the H2-B nonagricultural guest worker program to discriminate against them.
Toribio Jimenez was promised a job as a janitor, but upon his arrival to Tennessee he was told his job was to remove hazardous asbestos. He recently lost his working visa because he was fired after complaining for abusive working conditions. Martin, on the other hand, argues that the company kept him unemployed by hiring immigrant workers. Their claims are not isolated. There are various reports proving that temporary workers are constantly abused and cheated out of wages. Similar lawsuits are pending in Kansas City, Arkansas, and Utah.
The case of these workers is yet another example of how guest worker programs hurt American and foreign-born workers. Guest worker programs institutionalize a second-class labor market in which temporary workers are abused and exploited. In turn, guest workers' vulnerability in the workplace threatens to drive down wages and conditions for all workers.
A guest worker program is one of the tension points in the immigration reform debate. Republicans and businesses say that there will be no deal if some type of a temporary worker program is not included in immigration reform. A guest worker program, however, will not benefit American workers. Our workforce will only benefit from an immigration policy that enables all workers, regardless of immigration status, to compete on an even playing field and assert their rights in the workplace.