Rep. Judy Chu, whose 27th Congressional District includes South Pasadena, has joined with Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey in introducing the “Protecting Our Workers from Exploitation and Retaliation Act.”

The acronym for the proposal is POWER, which is what the legislators are hoping to give immigrant workers a measure of by providing them with temporary protections from retaliation for exercising their rights under existing labor and employment laws.

“Immigrants make up 17.4 percent of the labor force in the United States and are important contributors in the healthcare, manufacturing, construction and agriculture industries,’’ Chu said in a news release.

“Without immigrants, many of these industries would suffer and make the United States less globally competitive and prosperous. But, despite how much we depend on immigrants, some unscrupulous employers seek to exploit them, making them work extreme hours in difficult and dangerous conditions. They do this knowing that, being undocumented, the workers will be too afraid to report this abuse to the authorities. …

“Our legislation will help ensure workers have a path to report unlawful or unfair labor practices and that they don’t fall through the cracks of a broken immigration system just because they stand up for their rights.”  

Chu said that, at a time of “increasing workplace raids, discrimination and threats against immigrants,” the provisions in the POWER Act would protect workers from employers who use illegal business practices and threaten workers with deportation if they go to the authorities.

“Employers should not be able to use the threat of deportation to retaliate against, intimidate or punish an employee for exercising their rights,” said Rep. Robert C. Scott of Virginia, chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor and one of the co-sponsors.

“The POWER Act will strengthen protections for all workers and help ensure that unscrupulous employers are brought to justice for labor violations. This bill also represents an important step forward in making sure that workers can fully realize their rights on the job and do not have to live in fear while trying to make a living.”

The legislation is co-sponsored by five senators (four Democrats and the independent Bernie Sanders) and nine other House members, all Democrats.

It is also supported by organizations such as the AFL-CIO, Job with Justice, the National Employment Law Project, the National Immigration Law Center and the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice.

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