Sunday, September 1, 2013

This Labor Day, Let’s Band Together for Worker’s Rights

Dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers, Labor Day constitutes a yearly tribute to the contributions workers have made to the health, prosperity, and well-being of the United States. Congress officially made the first September of the month a legal holiday in 1894, reiterating that the workforce was the critical piece of the nation’s fabric.

As we celebrate our workers this Labor Day, there are still strides to be made. Working people in America have certain basic legal rights to safe, healthy and fair conditions at work, but often these rights are not respected or realized.

For example, agricultural workers are exempt from the overtime pay provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, though they often work well in excess of forty hours per week. Similarly, hundreds of thousands of domestic workers are excluded from many of the basic protections of labor laws, which include minimum wage, overtime, sick and vacation pay. Many work without health care and do not earn enough to support their own families. Though a Domestic Worker Bill of Rights has been introduced into the Illinois legislature, the bill is currently still pending.

To remedy the injustices many domestic workers face, the bill includes the following provisions:

· the right to be paid no less than the minimum wage
· the right to be paid for all work hours
· the right to at least one day off a week
· the right to meal and rest periods
· the right to paid time off

In extreme cases, workers brought from other countries to work in the United States are indebted to the people that brought them here and expected to work no matter the conditions for little or no pay. When force, fraud or coercion is involved, the situation escalates from labor exploitation to labor trafficking, a federal crime by law. According to the ILO, 21 million people are stuck in situations of forced labor globally. Of these victims, many undocumented children are subject to debt bondage and peonage, which forces them to pay off smuggling debts levied by snakeheads. Unfortunately, these children are often identified as smuggled into the United States, but not trafficked.

In the United States, labor trafficking has also been linked to several Asian communities. In fact, according to a 2010 U.S. Department of Justice Report on Trafficking, the majority of immigrant human trafficking victims in the United States are from Asia and the Pacific. To date, there have been no targeted or coordinated outreach efforts to identify Asian Pacific Islander trafficking victims in the Chicago area. IOFA’s Asian American Trafficking Outreach Project (AATOP) aims to fill the current gap in services by partnering with API organizations to build their capacity to identify and serve victims in their communities. Simultaneously, in an effort to identify more labor trafficking cases, the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force is also in the beginning stages of establishing a labor trafficking committee.

As we honor the workers of our nation, let's not forget that it's also a day to advocate for those who continue to be treated unjustly.

What can you do?
-Contact your state senator to support the Illinois Domestic Worker Bill of Rights
-Become a part of the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force labor trafficking subcommittee
-As a member-driven program, AATOP relies on the support of community members who serve API Chicagoans. If you serve this community and would like to join us in better serving trafficking victims, reach out to AATOP at

-Summar Ghias
Program Specialist

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