TUCSON — ‘The immigration issue is a labor issue’ was how Immigration rights activist, Isabel Garcia, summed up discussion at a July 21st ‘Worker and Immigrant Rights Solidarity Forum’ at the First Christian Church here.

The well attended community forum was sponsored by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), with active support from Jobs with Justice, Derechos Humanos coalition, and other community organizations.

UFCW Has been campaigning to organize workers at the Food City grocery chain. Food City is owned by the Basha family who also own the Basha’s and AJ’s chain of of stores, all nonunion. Food City workers Fernando Aguilar and Frances Hernandez told the forum about worsening working conditions at their stores, with cuts in wages and hours together with, harder work, dirtier stores, and intimidation and firings of workers who speak out. ‘Basha says we are members of a happy family – I don’t think so,’ said Hernandez, adding that now, with the union. she is no longer afraid.

The UFCW campaign has been pointing out that Food City stores, which serve mostly the Latino immigrant community, are dirty with more health violations than the Basha’s stores located in higher-income Anglo neighborhoods.

Isabel Garcia, a leader of the Derechos Humanos coalition, explained the case of undocumented workers arrested in a raid on a Panda Express restaurant last year. The workers were charged with aggravated identity theft, a third class felony, for using a fake Social Security number. She pointed out that the right to work is protected by international law, and that the workers didn’t steal anything, there was no theft. All they did is work and pay taxes. One of the arrested women, mother to an eight-month-old baby, spent five months in prison because of draconian Arizona law that denies bail to undocumented immigrants. ‘A murderer would have been out on bail,’ she explained.

Garcia and other participants called for Congress to pass progressive and needed immigration reform and pass the Employee Free Choice Act.