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June 18, 2008


June 16th, 2008

For immediate release

Dave Moore, Voces de la Frontera (Wisconsin), 414-218-7115
Brian Payne, Workers' Interfaith Network (Minnesota), 612-859-5750

Ashley Furniture's prosecution by the National Labor Relations Board Tuesday June 17th is no routine matter. It marks the latest chapter in a conflict over Social Security 'No Match' letters which typifies the fear and confusion sparked by proposed rules from the Bush Administration that are affecting employers and employees alike.

The NLRB complaint against the country's largest furniture retailer alleges that Ashley interfered with the rights of workers at its Arcadia, Wisconsin plant, instructing them that they could not speak to each other about procedures the company implemented on "No Match" letters and work authorizations. [No Match briefing]

"As soon as details of proposed new federal rules emerged, Ashley's attorneys panicked and rushed to implement those procedures prematurely – procedures which the federal courts blocked after hearing evidence from labor and civil rights groups showing that they were deeply flawed," explains Christine Neumann-Ortiz of Voces de la Frontera, the Milwaukee workers' rights center that took forward the employees' complaint. "By threatening firings and banning communication between workers, the company created a climate of fear."

The company threatened to fire workers on the basis of a routine letter issued by the Social Security Administration in cases where a worker's Social Security contributions cannot be correctly allocated because of a records mismatch. With an acknowledged 17.8 million errors in the SSA database, the issue is often a simple typographical error or name change on marriage or divorce. Most of those affected are U.S. citizens.

However, Ashley took its lead from new proposals from the Bush Administration seeking to force employers to treat receipt of a 'No Match' letter as demanding re-verification of work authorization. The proposed rule would require the company to dismiss after 90 days where a worker could not resolve a problem, backed by the threat of massive fines for non compliance.

Most employers have consistently opposed the plan, which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimated would cost companies $1 billion to implement. However, some, like Ashley, have rushed ahead. They do so despite the fact that No Match letters clearly state that they have nothing to do with work authorization and that no adverse action should be taken against workers whose names appear in them. In doing so, they risk violating existing state and federal anti discrimination laws.

"We have seen a number of examples of 'No Match' letters being abused in Minnesota," says Brian Payne of the Minnesota Workers Interfaith Network, a workers' rights organization based in the Twin Cities. "Just last September, Best Brands Bakery in Eagan, Minnesota improvised its own form of 'No Match' verification to lay off 60-80 workers with decent wages and benefits and replace them with workers from temporary agencies at a fraction of the wage with no benefits. This is having a devastating impact on our communities as employers throughout Minnesota and the country continue to unjustly lay off employees using 'No Match' letters as an excuse."

According to Neumann-Ortiz: "All we are asking companies to do is to follow the law. Companies have been acting as though the proposed rule is law. It is not. It was blocked by a federal court. There is absolutely no legal basis or authority requiring employers to re-verify workers status based solely on a no-match letter. Yet, we are seeing employers overstep their bounds not just in response to federal letters, but at the state level, too, with similar 'No Match' letters issued by the State of Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development Unemployment Division."

For Attorney Mark Sweet, representing Voces de la Frontera on behalf of the workers, the attempt to silence the employees is of particular concern. "The right of workers to discuss workplace issues among themselves is an essential element of workplace democracy that lies at the core of the National Labor Relations Act. Overly broad rules prohibiting such discussions, such as that implemented by Ashley, interfere with the workers' federally protected rights," Sweet says.

An Administrative Law Judge will hold a hearing on the allegations of violations by Ashley on Tuesday, June 17, 2008, 9:00 a.m., at Trempleau Court in Whitehall, Wisconsin. Voces de la Frontera and its attorney will be present to assist the General Counsel of the NLRB prosecute the case on behalf of the workers.

Voces de la Frontera – www.vdlf.org - is a nonprofit with offices in Milwaukee and Racine. It is a leading voice in the national immigrant rights movement and its current activities include a major campaign to increase civic participation.

The Workers Interfaith Network – www.workersinterfaith.org – is a Twin Cities (Minnesota) based organization that unites religious leaders, labor leaders, and workers to address economic disparities by demanding improved wages, benefits, and working conditions assuring that our community's economic abundance is shared by all.


June 5, 2008

Steven Renderos: Are we really surprised?

A couple of days ago, a young girl in Maplewood ran frantically to a neighbor's door and proclaimed that someone was trying to abduct her. Police responded and immediately tried to get a description of the suspect. The young girl described him as a male "hispanic" driving a red minivan, with a "shadowy figure" in the backseat.

Police went out searching, allocating all the resources and their disposal to ensure public safety. But some of the details of this young girl's story weren't adding up. Investigators decided to conduct an interview with the victim and were able to find out that the whole abduction was fabricated. There was no male "hispanic" driving a red minivan or a "shadowy figure" in the backseat.

In extreme moments such as the abduction of a young child, there would seem to be no reason to question their credibility. But this case, as isolated, or as unique as it may be, leaves us asking some tough questions. (To read Pioneer Press Article on this story click here)

Why did she describe her assailant as being "Hispanic?"

What's her understanding of Latinos?

Let me be clear, I don't blame her or pretend to want to chastise her for committing a mistake. At the end of the day she's only 10. But we do have to question the influences in her life that are socializing her to believe certain stereotypes or are at the very least conjuring up a pattern of images which are shaping her public perception.

Its been well documented the amount of television and other forms of media that children are taking in on a daily basis. The phenomenon has grown to the point where children are spending more time engaging with media than they do with their parents and teachers combined.

The mainstream media's portrayal of Latinos has consistently been negative. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists annually does a "Brownout Report" in which they analyze the coverage of the major TV networks and their coverage of Latinos. What they've found is that networks seldom cover the Latino community, but when they do, the coverage tends to be around crime and immigration. (For Brownout Reports from 2001-2006 click here)

In 2006, the Minnesotano Media Empowerment Project conducted research of twenty newspapers statewide for a period of 10 weeks in the fall. The report tracked and analyzed articles based on the type of topics that were being covered as well as the types of Latinos that appeared in the stories. The major findings were that nearly 30% of the stories dealt with the topic of crime. Of which the majority of those stories presented criminal activity in which Latinos were the perpetrators. The most prevalent type of Latino that appeared in the research was a criminal.
(To read full report click here)

So if these are the images that our children and the general public are exposed to....
070511_A1_hADOC72450_immcrime11.jpg photo_servlet.jpg 2007-05-22CNNAMJuan.jpg

Then can we really be surprised that when a young girl thinks of an child abductor she conjures the images of a Latino face.

June 4, 2008

Steven Renderos: Oh Lord, I'm Stuck in Lodi Again!


One of the first albums I ever listened to from beginning to end was "Green River" by Creedence Clearwater Revival. This was my uncle's favorite band even though he didn't speak any English and most of the music that he listened to didn't sound anything like CCR. They became and to this day, still are, one of my favorite bands. Their raw sound mixed with lyrics of pain and sadness made it the perfect band for people with less than perfect lives.

One song I particularly listened to all the time was "Lodi". The song begins with:
Just about a year ago, I set out on the road,
Seekin' my fame and fortune, lookin' for a pot of gold.
Things got bad, and things got worse, I guess you will know the tune.
Oh ! Lord, Stuck in Lodi again.

Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez was also stuck in Lodi. She was a 17 year old farmworker making $8/hour while picking grapes in the California heat. During her third day on the job she collapsed of heat exhaustion and eventually died two days later. She was a Mexican undocumented immigrant, but she didn't have to die. There are laws in California which address the working conditions of farmworkers who are subjected to strenuous environments which put their lives at risk. Theoretically, employers are supposed to supply their workers with a quart of water during every shift as well as a shaded area for them to cool off and take 5 minute rests as needed.

I say theoretically because for Maria Isabel, things got back and then things got worse. She died, and it was discovered later that she was two-months pregnant at the time.

An article in the Sacramento Bee generated a public outcry over this incident. Unfortunately, the public outcry had nothing to do with the unfortunate death of a young woman, or even the negligence of her employers. No, the public outcry was because she was an "illegal immigrant". (Click to read article here)

Since when did imaginary boundaries develop the power to strip someone of their human identity. As if crossing a border and risking death for a better life was so egregious a crime? So egregious that when an undocumented immigrant dies, xenophobic self proclaimed "Americans" lose all sense of compassion. Here are a couple of comments from posted by readers:

Gawond wrote:
She was here illegally, working illegally, not paying taxes - again - illegal. If she wanted to work in better working conditions and be protected by a union, then she should have come into this country legally. Why is everyone blaming the farmers, etc? Where were her parents? Why aren't they being charged with child abuse? I am sure they accepted her earned money without worrying about her working conditions. Now all of the sudden a public outcry?

Trooper47 wrote:
1) I do not feel sorry for this situation because she - and others- are committing crimes in this country. 2) Had she come into this country legally she would have had the legal protection of possibly a union, OSHA, decent wages, and I could go on and on. 3) She was NOT an undocumented farmworker. That was her occupation. She WAS an illegal alien or illegal immigrant - so long as the word I-L-L-E-G-A-L is used - and it puzzles me how politicians (lawmakers) use the term I-L-L-E-G-A-L on occasion but the continue to allow it. 4) I agree with those who posted that it was a "national shame" which is B.S. The national shame is that our politicians have failed miserably in upholding their oath of office. 5) This country was, in fact, made the great country it is/was by immigrants but they were legal immigrants. And finally, 6) they can get at the end of the line and enter legally. The line is in their home country - not this country.

What's puzzling to me beyond the bigotry was the amount of comments that were simply upset over how she was labeled. As if being an "undocumented immigrant" is too soft of a label because we're not patronizing them in the process. It begs the question, "What United States of America are we living in?" and "What United States of America do we want to live in?" I don't understand the hatred that emanates from this issue of immigration, and worse is how misinformed the general public is about the issue.

Myth: Immigrants bring diseases to the U.S.

Myth: Immigrants have no legal rights

Myth: Immigrants are taking jobs away from "Americans"

It is unfortunate that the death of a young woman is overshadowed by an issue that has largely been misrepresented by media. The failure to report the issue in a balanced manner leads to the shaping of public opinion. Currently, the political climate favors an enforcement only approach to immigration. Meaning, we must deport all 12 million undocumented immigrants. The truth is, this approach is not feasible and will not lead to resolution. Instead its stirring bigotry, hatred and anti-Latino sentiments reminiscent of the racial tensions our country experienced in the first half of the 20th century. Things got bad, and now they seem to be getting worse, I guess you know the tune...it seems we'll be stuck in Lodi for a long time.

June 2, 2008

News Article: (TC Daily Planet) Espejos, Reflecting the Latino Community

Espejos: Reflecting the Latino community

Top left to right: Marion Gomez, Poetry Artist Intern; Cecilia Pino Godoy, Painting Mentor; Teresa Ortiz, Poetry Mentor; Marianela Molina Rodas, Poetry Mentee. Bottom: Misael Ivan Lopez, Painting and Grafitti Mentee; Roberto Rivera, Painting Artist (Photo courtesy of Intermedia Arts)

By Mary Turck , TC Daily Planet
June 01, 2008

Teresa Ortiz is a poet, spoken word artist, community organizer, ESL teacher—and a mentor for writers through the Espejos program for the past two years. Espejos, a mentoring program for emerging Latino artists, will present this year’s artistic work June 5 at 7 p.m.

Espejos 2008
Gallery viewing starts: May 22
Opening Night Reception and Performance: 6-9 PM
Thursday, June 5, 2008.
Doors open at 6:00 PM, Performance from 7-9 PM
Intermedia Arts
2822 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis 55408
Free admission

Teresa Ortiz talked to the Daily Planet about Espejos, and this is what she had to say.

TC Daily Planet: What is Espejos?

TERESA ORTIZ: Espejos (“Mirrors?) is a program of Intermedia Arts supported by the Minnesota Regional Arts Council to support and develop new Latino artists in the community. The first year, the program worked mostly with visual arts. Last year, when I started, they had four disciplines – visual arts, dance, poetry and literary arts. This year they had just visual arts and literary arts. The visual arts included painting and graffiti.

This year we have two mentors: Cecilia Pino Godoy in painting and myself in poetry. I am also the coordinator.

We invite young Latinos in the metro area to send a proposal for what they want to do, then we evaluate the proposals and choose. This year we had only one mentee per category, and we also had people who had not only potential but also some experience, so we chose them as artist interns. The mentees get a scholarship but the interns are there to help the program.

Marianela Molina Rodas was the poetry mentee and Marion Gomez was the poetry artist intern. Misael Ivan Lopez was the painting mentee and Roberto Rivera was the artist intern for painting.

TCDP: Tell me about the Latino arts scene in the Twin Cities.

The Chalchiutlicue festival features Latino dance groups and artists at the Wellstone Center (May 30) and Powderhorn Park (May 31 and June 1). The Web site gives a schedule for events and explains:

“Chalchiutlicue is the scientific phenomena that occur with the water. It is the duality of the representation of Tlaloc – the rain. Chalchiutlicue is the snow on the mountains, the lagoons and lakes, the internal waters of the earth and the springs where the water flows out to the surface. ...

“In our lifetime, we have witnessed the first privatization of the water, just as our grandparents experienced the privatization of the land of our mother earth.?

TERESA ORTIZ: We are diverse even in the Latino community.

In poetry, there are the Palabristas spoken word collective and other new poets being developed through different programs, such as the Loft. The Palabristas have published two chapbooks.

In painting or visual arts, Douglas Padilla and other people work through the Grupo Soap del Corazon collective, and other artists also are in the Twin Cities. There are not too many opportunities, especially for new talents, but it is being developed little by little.

And then there are the theater groups, like Teatro del Pueblo. There’s quite a bit of music, too, and dance – at least three groups of Danza Mexica (what is called Aztec dancing) and folk dance, too. Deborah Ramos works in another group for dance and visual arts.

TCDP: How do you mentor a writer?

TERESA ORTIZ: It’s difficult to work with one writer rather than several. With painting you can comment directly on their work, but with a writer it’s good to have other peers to comment on one another’s work.

The essence of my poetry comes from the joy for every small and simple moment of my life, from every learning experience, good and bad. Marianela Molina Rodas, Poetry Mentee Espejos 2008

One of my artistic focuses is to incorporate and interpret in my own urban style the traditional indigenous Mayan and Aztec art in a fresh new form that has not been seen or done before. As a graffiti artist I want to help secure and pave new roads for representing this rich urban underground art form in hopes of pioneering my genre for future generations. Misael Ivan Lopez, Painting Mentee, Espejos 2008

As a Colombian American, I refuse to assimilate into mainstream American culture, which for me means giving up all ties to my father’s cultural legacy. My writing strives to reconnect with this loss and truly understand my father’s experience as a Colombian immigrant in the U.S. Marion Gomez, Poetry Artist Intern, Espejos 2008

My artwork is a spontaneous combustion of raw expression and creativity. It is a reflection of my culture, my thoughts, my dreams, my loves, my fears and my world. Roberto Rivera, Painting Artist Intern, Espejos 2008

Both of the mentees I have worked with – Ana last year and Marianela this year – have had very clear ideas of what they wanted to do with their art. Marianela wanted to make a chapbook. She put together a chapbook with poems and songs and a story about her grandparents in Eucador.

She had a very clear concept of what she wanted. We looked at different chapbooks and how it should be put together. She designed the cover and everything else. We worked mostly on the poems. She would write poems and I would go over them and edit and give suggestions.

One of the things we learn is that poetry is what you want it to be. You don’t have to follow certain archetypes. Her poetry is very traditional, although she thinks that it is more alternative. Several of her poems are quite political. The two that she is going to be presenting on June 5 are quite political. But much of her poetry is religious, it’s about her family and about her life as a person and a mother. It’s a very interesting concept. It’s all in Spanish.

We also worked with the artist intern, Marion Gomez, a Colombian-American who writes mostly in English. She grew up speaking English, though her father is Colombian. So she writes a lot about her experience as a second-generation Latina and about her father’s experience as an immigrant. One of her poems, “Identidad,? is about her experience as a Latina who speaks English.

We have a collective of three poems – one that I wrote and one that Marion wrote and one that Marianela wrote. Mine is called “Teritorio del norte.? Marianela’s poem is about undocumented immigration. Marion’s poem is about identity.

The three painters made a collective painting about these three poems. It is three panels that can be moved in three different ways, kind of following each other into maps and lines that really reflect the identity of the Latino people.

Besides that there are paintings by Misael. He is also a graffiti artist, and they are doing a graffiti program called Game at Intermedia Arts, so he participated with that as well.

We tried to integrate everybody into collective work, supporting one another.