WASHINGTON – Immigrant workers observed May Day with a Capitol Hill rally to demand that Congress grant legal residency to 8.5 million undocumented workers by passing the FREEDOM Act. They then moved downtown to a “Justice for Janitors” rally that turned into a May Day celebration of a contract victory for 4,000 custodial workers here.

Members of the Toledo-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) traveled to the capital by bus and were joined by members of the Laborers International Union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and other worker groups from across the nation affiliated with the National Coalition for Dignity & Amnesty for Undocumented Immigrants (NCDAUI). They waved scarlet banners emblazoned with the words, “Hasta Victoria” and chanted “Bush, escucha, estamos en la lucha” (Bush, listen up. We are fighting back!).

SEIU Local 82 Secretary-Treasurer Jaime Contreras told the rally, “We are here to show our support for hard working, taxpaying immigrant workers, to keep their voices alive. Today is May Day. It is appropriate to be here today. These are people who work hard every day for $8 an hour without healthcare benefits.” Many of Local 82 members are immigrant workers.

He told the World Local 82 members were prepared to strike to win a fair contract for custodial workers locked in hard negotiations with owners of commercial buildings in downtown Washington. The rally erupted in cheers when the SEIU negotiating team arrived with news that the building owners had minutes earlier agreed to provide healthcare benefits and a wage increase. Ian Burlin, a SEIU Local 82 spokesman, called the contract won by D.C. janitors “groundbreaking.” With similar victories for janitors in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Orange County, Calif., “it’s pretty significant that these victories were won without a strike,” following a strong victory after a three-week strike in Boston, he said.

Two years ago, support for legalizing the status of undocumented workers was gaining broad support in Congress. But the Bush administration seized on the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack to launch a frontal assault on immigrant rights with thousands of immigrants held in detention, deported without due process, and the U.S.-Mexico border militarized in the name of “homeland security.”

“While immigrant soldiers fight and die for this country abroad, immigrants at home are still denied the most basic rights,” NCDAUI said in a atatement. More than a dozen non-citizen immigrant soldiers have died in Iraq, about one in ten of the U.S. casualties.

FLOC leader Beatriz Maya said undocumented immigrant workers do backbreaking labor in agriculture, construction, and the service industry, paying billions each year in taxes but enjoying none of the benefits of citizenship. “Transnational corporations are trying to control workers to provide for cheap labor,” she said, adding that U.S. corporations are pushing for an expansion of “bracero” or “guest worker” programs that deny immigrant workers’ rights to organize, live and work in this country.

She said the FREEDOM Act would legalize all undocumented immigrants and create a new temporary residence status granting workers the right to live and work in the U.S. for three consecutive years with the right to seek a three-year extension and to apply for permanent residence status.

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com

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