On September 17, 2008, the National Labor Relations Board ruled in favor of Voces de la Frontera and the workers of Ashley Furniture in Arcadia, Wisconsin; affirming the workers’ fundamental right to speak to each other or others, “about matters affecting their employment, including disciplinary proceedings, instructions concerning Social Security no-match letters and connected employment eligibility issues, and the updating of work permits.” Ashley is the largest furniture retailer in the country.
This is an important victory for all workers; but especially useful at a time when Voces de la Frontera is seeing that the actions of this company are not isolated.
In recent months, we have noted an escalation on the part of employers, like Ashley, who on bad legal advice, erroneously attempted to implement the proposed Bush Administration’s Department of Homeland Security rule changes on Social Security No Match letters. At Ashley it was the basis for silencing workers.
The proposed DHS rule would have treated no-match letters as a constructive knowledge of someone’s immigration status and would have required the company to fire employees who had not clarified the discrepancy within a limited timeframe.
But the proposed rule did not take effect since it was challenged in the courts in August 2007 and is still pending a final decision. Until the courts rule otherwise, current law clearly states that a SSA no match letter is not constructive knowledge of an employee’s immigration status and is not a basis, in and of itself, for termination or other adverse action.
As no federal SSA letters to employers have been sent since 2007, companies are using old letters on file, No Match letters from the State of Wisconsin, and, in some cases, re-verification of current employees under the SSNVS program to implement the proposed rule change — anticipating a change in the law or believing that the law has taken effect.
The SSNVS program administered by SSA clearly affirms that a No Match makes no statement on immigration status and is not a basis for dismissal. The same is true for the State of Wisconsin No Match letter. Yet, we see employers, changing internal policy and threatening termination. The idea that you can act in anticipation of a change in the law and not face legal consequences for violating current law is a ridiculous notion that you do not need a law degree to figure out.
In addition to a legal response, Voces de la Frontera has been engaging workers, who have shown great courage and united with their co-workers, and where they represent a sizable portion of the workforce, have used collective strategies to protect their livelihood. In this year alone, Voces de la Frontera has saved over 2,000 jobs.
In this edition, we hear from one of the workers who successfully organized his co-workers, resulted in 150 jobs being protected from unfair dismissal. We also hear from a union representative who worked in alliance with community groups to protect 500 jobs in one plant and 200 in another. I hope readers will be inspired to join our efforts to become informed about their workplace rights and unite with other co-workers and the community to defend their dignity.