International Workers’ Day in Phoenix Includes Demands for Better Working Conditions for Immigrants

Daria Ovide

May 1 rally unites power of worker and immigrant rights in push for comprehensive reform

PHOENIX—Hundreds of immigrant workers and advocates today marched from the Capitol to join a picket outside the Hyatt Regency hotel downtown to press for rights for immigrant workers as part of a bill to overhaul the nation’s immigration system.

Community activists organized today’s event to express support for the comprehensive immigration reform bill released by a bipartisan group of senators last week. May 1 is observed as International Workers’ Day across the world and, in the United States over the past decade, the day has witnessed calls to reform the laws that have left over 11 million people without legal status.

Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski told the crowd, “As we stand up for the rights of immigrants as human beings, we must also stand up for their rights as working people to perform their jobs safely and with dignity.”

The group marched from the Arizona Capitol to join a protest at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix downtown calling attention to how the hotel corporation treats immigrant employees. “We have been attacked as immigrants and we have been attacked as workers. Today, we stand up for ourselves as human beings and equal members of this community,” said Mireya Mariscal, a banquet server at the Phoenix Hyatt.

“Hyatt workers have a high injury rate in their industry, and the workers being hurt are immigrant women of color,” said Betty Guardado, secretary-treasurer of the hospitality workers union UNITE HERE in Phoenix. “As we finalize this historic reform, we must also improve conditions for immigrants employed by companies like Hyatt. We are all are here today because immigrants’ rights are workers’ rights, too.”

The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act would affect a number of immigration provisions, including the kinds of—and rules for—visas used by workers who come from outside the United States. The bill would enable an immigrant worker to retain her visa even if she left an abusive employer, and would allow her to reunite with her family while working in the U.S.. The legislation would also add protections for undocumented workers who apply for the new RPI status, the step before a green card.

Such protections are particularly critical in Arizona, where the fastest-growing employment sector in the state—the service industry—is staffed predominantly by immigrant workers. The bill is currently being amended by members of the Judiciary Committee in advance of a vote by the entire Senate.

The details of the visa changes were hammered out in negotiations between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the nation’s largest working people’s organization, the AFL-CIO. The labor federation, along with sustained pressure from immigrants’ rights organizations and a massive turnout of Latino voters in the 2012 elections, brought the immigration bill together, according to some observers. UNITE HERE is a member of the AFL-CIO.

Elizabeth Thompson, a server at Sky Harbor International Airport and a member of UNITE HERE Local 631 in Phoenix, said, “I’m proud to stand for immigration reform so that no one can use immigration status to separate me from my co-workers. We all do better when everyone is equal on the job.”

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