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Migration Policy Institute Podcasts

MPI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank dedicated to the study of the movement of people worldwide.

State and Local Labor Standards Enforcement in Immigrant-Dense Industries

Posted by migrationpolicy on March 15th, 2018

Immigrants, who account for 17 percent of the U.S. labor force, are twice as likely as native-born workers to work in industries where core labor and safety standard violations are widespread. Many immigrants have been driven into low-wage, under-regulated work by a confluence of immigration policies and economic transformations in which companies now routinely contract out for their labor needs, such as occurs in the cleaning, warehousing, food preparation, construction, and transportation sectors. In these sectors, it is commonplace for employers to misclassify workers as independent contractors to avoid paying employer-related taxes and workers compensation, and to evade responsibility for compliance with labor standards. Pushing back against the deterioration of labor standards in these sectors requires robust and strategic enforcement, but both government and private-sector driven enforcement are stymied by limited resources and disincentives for workers to file complaints.

State and local governments, with their broad enforcement powers, access to tax and insurance data, and their role in regulating unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation, are uniquely positioned to respond. As a Migration Policy Institute report outlines, state innovations in enforcement can benefit both native-born and immigrant workers alike, increase state tax revenue, and level competition in the marketplace for law-abiding employers. However, since states also contend with limited resources, strategic enforcement of workplace statutes that change employer behavior is key. 

At this report release discussion, the authors, Muzaffar Chishti, Director, MPI's office at New York University (NYU) School of Law, and Andrew Elmore, NYU School of Law Acting Assistant Professor and former New York Office of Attorney General Labor Bureau Section Chief, discuss the dynamics in low-wage workplaces and immigration law that have contributed to systematic violations of labor standards. They also highlight the new and effective enforcement strategies that state and local governments across the United States are utilizing. And California Labor Commissioner Julie Su and Tennessee Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Administrator Abbie Hudgens discuss how they have leveraged existing resources to more effectively enforce labor laws. 

 

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