Behind The Scenes, Immigrants Keep The USA Running

Many of us in the 21st century spend a big part of our lives “online,” yet the virtual world still depends on the physical, including the labor of those who create, manufacture, and provide the essential goods and services that everyone requires. Many of us connect to this behind-the-scenes, virtually invisible economy only when we purchase the final product from a retailer, but at every stage in the economic chain, real people by the millions contribute real muscle and sweat every day.

In the United States in the 21st century, for example, it’s almost a certainty that the blueberries, strawberries, peaches, asparagus, or lettuce you purchase from any grocer passed through the hands of Latin American migrant labor. Closer to home, many of us see – and hire – housekeepers and lawn service providers who are immigrants. They’re servers and cashiers. In many cities, immigrants drive most of the taxis and deliver most of the newspapers. They perform many of the mundane essential functions that keep the economy running.

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If you hire immigrants to work for your company in the United States, or if you are yourself an immigrant in the United States – with or without documentation – you can learn more about your legal rights, obligations, and options by speaking with a trustworthy and experienced Michigan or Ohio immigration attorney. Immigration law is complicated and constantly changing, which sometimes makes compliance quite challenging for both employers and the immigrants they hire.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE BOSTON GLOBE?

At one newspaper, the Boston Globe, reporters and editors earlier this year encountered for the first time a world previously invisible to them. In their climate-controlled offices and conference rooms, these professional journalists and their bosses had only the vaguest notion about how their work actually, physically gets into a reader’s hands in the form of a morning newspaper. For the most part, newspapers are delivered by low-paid immigrants. The story began late last year when the Boston Globe contracted a new company to deliver the newspapers.

If you thought newspapers were dead, they’re not in Boston, where several hundred thousand subscribers to the Globe expect delivery 365 days a year. Although the change to a new contractor should have been routine, it wasn’t. Like so many other behind-the-scenes services, the delivery of newspapers in many cities is provided by mostly marginalized immigrant workers, and many of them lack documentation.

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To move a printed newspaper from the presses into hands of thousands of Boston subscribers takes a small army of people willing to work 365 nights a year – without regard to snow or road conditions. At a distribution center, they fold and stack newspapers, load them, and use their own vehicles, driving in the last several hours before sunrise. As independent contractors, they pay for their own gas and insurance. Most barely make the minimum wage. Many of the delivery people are immigrants.

ACI Media Group promised to cut the Globe’s costs for delivering newspapers by paying delivery workers less – while demanding more. ACI, based in California, had trouble hiring enough workers in the Boston area to deliver the Globe, and many who were hired walked off the job due to low pay and unreasonable working conditions. Newspapers went undelivered – news that quickly made it to the Globe’s newsroom.

HOW DID THE NEWSPAPER HANDLE THE DELIVERY CRISIS?

After a week, the newspaper was in crisis. Writers, photographers, and editors were recruited to make sure the Sunday Globe got delivered – an unprecedented move. According to the New York Times, two hundred reporters and other staffers stayed up all night and “bagged thousands of newspapers and stacked them in their cars.” Reporter Kevin Cullen wrote, “whatever they pay the delivery people, it’s not enough, and it’s more than a little depressing to think this debacle has been brought about by a desire to pay them even less.”

Globe Columnist Marcela García wrote that delivering the newspaper was “an unbelievably eye-opening experience.” A Mexican-born bilingual journalist, columnist, and editorial writer who frequently reports on immigration issues for the Globe, Garcia added, “Reporters delivering their own work – that’s a story. But off camera, and working side by side with us as we assembled the Sunday paper, were the people who are there every night, making not much more than minimum wage.”

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The following Tuesday, the Globe’s publisher, John W. Henry offered a public apology to the newspaper’s subscribers. Henry wrote, “Getting a daily newspaper to your front door is a complicated exercise in logistics – this is something the Globe has been innovating in for more than 150 years…. Until Globe staffers embarked on an effort to save more than 20,000 subscribers from missing their Sunday paper, we had underestimated what it would take to make this change.”

WHAT DID THE BOSTON GLOBE FINALLY ADMIT?

The following Saturday, January 9, almost two weeks after the newspaper’s delivery problems first emerged, Globe reporter Michael Levenson wrote about the “long hours, little pay, [and] no vacation for delivery drivers.” Levenson graphically explained for readers the “grueling nocturnal marathon for low-income workers who toil almost invisibly on the edge of the economy.” On January 13, a Globe editorial admitted that “drivers get no vacation, and lack worker protections.”

The editorial called on the Massachusetts attorney general and federal authorities to investigate the delivery companies. The present system depends on mostly immigrant, often undocumented workers who are often manipulated and bullied by unscrupulous employers. The Globe offered a rare look at how just one company relies on immigrant workers. A similar story could be told about thousands of U.S. companies in a number of labor-intensive industries, from agriculture to manufacturing to construction.

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Recent data released by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) tells us that immigrants in the United States pay sales taxes, property taxes, and state and federal income taxes. Half of all working immigrant families file income tax returns, but if they don’t, the taxes are still paid because they’re deducted from paychecks. ITEP says “the 11.4 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States pay billions of dollars in local, state and federal taxes.” Hard-working immigrants deserve the same reasonable wages and benefits that U.S.-born workers expect and routinely enjoy.

If you are an immigrant in the United States – with or without documentation – and you have questions about your legal status, work authorization, visas, or any other immigration concern, speak at once with an experienced Michigan or Ohio immigration lawyer. An experienced immigration attorney can also discuss immigration-related labor concerns with U.S.-based employers.