PIONEERING JUSTICE FOR TODAY’S GLOBAL MIGRANTS
Global Workers continued to set important precedents in 2008. Portable Justice -—the right and ability of migrant workers to access justice in the country of employment even after they have departed-- sets Global Workers apart and has proven to profoundly impact the lives of migrants and their families.
Below are some of the year’s highlights.
ANTI-TRAFFICKING WORK LAUDED
Global Workers anti-trafficking efforts received international recognition in the Ashoka Foundation’s Changemakers Competition “Ending Global Slavery: Everyday Heroes Leading the Way.” Over two hundred organizations from almost fifty countries entered the competition that sought to highlight innovative approaches to combat human trafficking. In selecting Global Workers as a finalist, the esteemed international panel of judges noted that Global Workers:
is an impressive program because it helps transnational migrant workers retain rights in their destination country, even after they have returned home. By using existing instruments, expanding them to new areas, and applying them to new initiatives, this organization has the potential for long-term success.
SUSTAINABLE SOLUTIONS: THE GLOBAL WORKERS DEFENDER NETWORK
A central breakthrough for 2008 was the formal launching of the Global Workers Defender Network. After years of careful preparation and planning, Global Workers convened thirteen human right organizations from Southern Mexico and Guatemala for a thee-day training on defending the rights of transnational migrants in the United States. To be a member of the Defender Network, these newly trained advocates are committing to educate migrants on their rights in the United States as well as provide services to the ones who have been exploited or trafficked. The Defender Network is core to our mission of portable justice—by increasing resources for migrant workers in their home countries, Global Workers is ensuring that migrants are not forced to abandon their legal rights just because they want to go home.
WINNING JUSTICE FOR GLOBAL MIGRANTS
Through the Defender Network and other collaborators, Global Workers ensured that thousands of migrants achieved justice that would have otherwise been denied them. A law school human rights clinic team traveled to Guatemala to work directly with our Defenders in Chiquimula to ensure that hundreds of landscapers in the H-2 guestworker program had the opportunity to claim their stolen wages. Upon returning to the United States, the clinic team noted Global Workers vital support: “We could not have undertaken this work -- often in isolated communities -- without the support of our local partner." In Oaxaca, Mexico, our Defenders’ local expertise proved invaluable in significantly increasing the numbers of H-2b apple pickers who made claims to recover wages denied them while working in Washington state.
Global Workers also provided key support for injured workers. After a workplace injury in a factory known for its dangerous conditions, a worker was deported with pins still inserted in his shattered arm. With the U.S. insurer denying medical care due to his departure, Global Workers worked fast to secure treatment in Guatemala. Thoroughly pleased with the cross-border collaboration, the worker’s attorney commented: "I truly do think this is a turning point for workers here in Massachusetts who are afraid to speak up about the dangerous conditions they endure. This shows that even if the worker doesn't stay in the US, they have rights that are most basic to us all." Another worker chose to go home after a vehicle accident left him paralyzed. Severely limited in his mobility—without access to even a wheelchair--Global Workers Defenders visited his home in rural Chiapas, Mexico to obtain the needed documentation when the New Jersey-based attorney could not reach him at all, risking any chance for medical care and a better future for himself and his family.
In other cases Global Workers provided referrals that would have left migrants without any hope for justice at all. A human trafficking victim in New York was desperate to get her daughter away from the hands of her traffickers in Mexico. Now working with Mexican family law experts, the mother and daughter are close to reunification after years of separation. In another case, an Oklahoma-based company changed the contract terms for Indonesian guestworkers once they arrived in the United States, severely underpaying them while also committing tax fraud. Without Global Workers acting quickly to secure legal support for them in the United States, there would have been little these workers could have done from far away Indonesia.
BUILDING CAPACITY OF UNITED STATES ADVOCATES
During this year, Global Workers engaged in various activities to strengthen U.S. worker advocates expertise in transnational cases. The publication of the manual “Challenges in Transnational Litigation: Representing Absentee Migrant Workers in U.S. Courts” focuses on the discrete legal challenges worker advocates encounter when their clients leave the United States but still must face their employer in U.S. courts to recover wages or address other abuses. Global Workers used the manual as the basis for trainings at the biannual National Farmworker Law Conference, a “webinar” (interactive internet based training) on international labor rights sponsored by Cornell University, and a seminar for New York attorneys. Global Workers also brought its expertise to bear in commenting on regulatory changes to the U.S. guestworker program. The changes proposed by the outgoing administration would further weaken a poorly regulated program that consistently results in harm to U.S. and foreign workers alike.
Public education was another important aspect of the work this year. Global Workers was quoted in the Providence Journal regarding the case of a Mexican migrant whose face was slashed by a chain saw while trimming trees in Rhode Island. When he sought medical care he discovered that the employer had unlawfully failed to pay for workplace insurance. In a clear retaliatory move, the employer arranged for the worker to be arrested at the courthouse on the day of his hearing and subsequently deported. Public speaking engagements included Sirius Radio’s Mike Feder Show and a migrant law conference in Canada.