Working Notes for July: Texas RICO and UN Global Forum

After the fireworks of July 4 have fallen back to earth, high summer in Texas will demand hard thinking about how people in a “land of the free and home of the brave” are supposed to act.

In early July, citizen-workers at the Swift meat cutting plant in Cactus, Texas will argue why their racketeering lawsuit against company management should not be dismissed.

Valenzuela, etal v Swift (3:06-cv-02322) was filed in the federal Northern District of Texas last December, alleging that managers of the butcher corporation have been hiring migrant workers in an effort to depress wages.

Lower wages would be the most obvious cost-cutting benefit of hiring migrant workers, but it is also cheaper to supervise workers less likely to demand their rights to workplace health and safety.

For named plaintiffs in the lawsuit — Blanda Valenzuela, Margie Salazar, Jose A. Serrato, Josie Rendon, Clara Tovar, Consuelo Espino, Maria Avila, Ernestina Navarrette, Maria E. Munoz, Amanda Salcido, Candelario G. Ortega, Maria Ortiz, Jose Oliva, Rafaela Chavez, Elodia Arroyo, Susana Cardiel, Gracie Rios, and Leonel Ruiz — the Swift company’s hiring practices deliberately undermined the value of workers.

A Dallas Observer story by Megan Feldman, “Ground Meat,” really digs into the guts of the Cactus butcher factory, where workers are ever slipping onto gore-strewn floors, or ruining their own tendons as they cut into cow carcasses at a rate approximating 400 per hour.

About the same time that the federal court will be updating the Swift worker lawsuit, the United Nations will convene the first meeting of its Global Forum on Migration and Development.

Session 1.3, for example, “aims at some best policy guidelines for governments to engage with the private sector to the mutual advantage of migrants, host communities, employers and developing economies.”

“This session will address the following questions: How can private sector and other non-state agencies better ensure that migrants are well informed and protected from abusive and malevolent practices (e.g. at the hands of smugglers or traffickers), both in their migration and the job placements abroad? How to balance facilitation and control of these players to help them facilitate beneficial and protective migration without further driving such agencies underground.”

As a working idea, we look forward to July’s high summer as a time for “free and brave” assertions about respecting rights of workers, for citizens and migrants alike. Otherwise, the only “mutual advantage” we see is where companies are able to depress the value of labor because immigration authorities intimidate migrants rather than protect their fundamental human rights.–gm

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