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Conflicting Commitments

Conflicting Commitments: The Politics of Enforcing Immigrant Worker Rights in San Jose and Houston

Shannon Gleeson
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press,
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Conflicting Commitments
    Book Description:

    In Conflicting Commitments, Shannon Gleeson goes beyond the debate over federal immigration policy to examine the complicated terrain of immigrant worker rights. Federal law requires that basic labor standards apply to all workers, yet this principle clashes with increasingly restrictive immigration laws and creates a confusing bureaucratic terrain for local policymakers and labor advocates. Gleeson examines this issue in two of the largest immigrant gateways in the country: San Jose, California, and Houston, Texas.

    Conflicting Commitments reveals two cities with very different approaches to addressing the exploitation of immigrant workers-both involving the strategic coordination of a range of bureaucratic brokers, but in strikingly different ways. Drawing on the real life accounts of ordinary workers, federal, state, and local government officials, community organizers, and consular staff, Gleeson argues that local political contexts matter for protecting undocumented workers in particular. Providing a rich description of the bureaucratic minefields of labor law, and the explosive politics of immigrant rights, Gleeson shows how the lessons learned from San Jose and Houston can inform models for upholding labor and human rights in the United States.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6577-2
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. Introduction: Immigrant Labor in the United States
    (pp. 1-29)

    A hundred years ago, 146 young immigrant women died in one of the largest industrial accidents in U.S. history. Unable to escape the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Manhattan because locked doors sealed them in the building, the young women fell victim to an employer who offered them the “low wages, excessively long hours, and unsanitary and dangerous working conditions” that had become endemic to the industry as a whole (Kheel Center 2011). The exploitation of the mostly Jewish garment workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory has become a touchstone in U.S. labor history. This incident kicked off...

  6. 1 Work in Postindustrial America
    (pp. 30-63)

    Since the end of World War II, the average median family income in the United States has grown by 50 percent.¹ However, lurking beneath that apparent progress is growing inequality that is now more extreme than at any other point since the three-decade era of “Great Prosperity” that began in 1947 (Reich 2011). Unionization rates are today at their lowest points, and the modern U.S. economy has slipped into a serious “time of troubles” (Lichtenstein 2002). Although workers enjoy more formal rights today than ever before, effective enforcement mechanisms do not exist (Bernhardt et al. 2008a), and the segmented labor...

  7. 2 Implementing the Legal Rights of Undocumented Workers
    (pp. 64-88)

    The preceding chapter examined the emergence of a new global economy wherein protections for low-wage workers have become increasingly important. Undocumented workers, who make up a growing portion of this low-wage workforce, are less likely to be unionized, and they face an array of barriers for mobilizing these rights. This chapter provides an overview of the legal framework for undocumented-worker rights in the United States from 1952 through the landmark 2002 Supreme Court decision in Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board, which held that undocumented workers are summarily barred from receiving back pay and effectively ineligible for...

  8. 3 Place Matters: How Local Governments Enforce Immigrant Worker Rights
    (pp. 89-117)

    While the enforcement of workplace standards and immigration regulations has traditionally fallen outside the jurisdiction of most local governments, every year city councils and county boards pass resolutions, vote on ballot referendums, and create memorandums of understanding that influence the lives of immigrant workers. On the labor front, dramatic union victories or lockouts tend to stand out. On the immigration front, we also often focus on the hostile contexts developing in new destinations. Yet the lived reality of these issues is often more complicated and nuanced. The strategies that advocates develop are shaped directly by the political culture of a...

  9. 4 Beyond Government: How Civil Society Serves, Organizes, and Advocates for Immigrant Workers
    (pp. 118-162)

    Civil society groups have become essential brokers between publics and government agencies of all sorts (Salamon 1987, 2002). However, the methods these groups adopt are as varied as the communities they represent. In the realm of immigrant workers’ rights, some organizations have focused on educating individuals in their rights, providing technical and legal assistance to navigate government bureaucracies, or even litigating on their behalf. Gordon (2007) refers to this type of service as the “lawyering” approach. At the grassroots level, other groups take the “organizing” approach, mobilizing workers and staging direct actions to pressure employers to comply with workers’ demands...

  10. 5 Advocating across Borders: Consular Strategies for Protecting Mexican Immigrant Workers
    (pp. 163-194)

    In the last three chapters, I have examined the position and influence of myriad actors in the political field of enforcing immigrant worker rights. Chapter 2 examined the statutes that labor standards enforcement bureaucracies carry out and the role professional missions play in promoting a status-blind approach to protecting even undocumented workers. Then in chapter 3, I looked beyond federal and state governments to examine how local elected officials shape the political culture and institutional landscape for the implementation of these protections at the city and county level. Chapter 4 moved beyond the government apparatus to examine how civil society...

  11. Conclusion: Making Rights Real for Immigrant Workers
    (pp. 195-206)

    This book has offered tools for understanding the process of enforcing rights. There is often a wide gap between formal protections and the experiences of rights holders, and as Tilly (1990) argues, in the absence of effective enforcement, rights cannot be said to exist. Despite the firewall between immigration enforcement and labor standards enforcement in the United States, the mere possibility of collaboration between agencies is enough to foil well-meaning attempts to protect immigrant workers. As I have shown, each member of a wide network of advocates in local government, civil society, and consular offices plays a role in bridging...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 207-226)
  13. References
    (pp. 227-262)
  14. Index
    (pp. 263-272)