The price of "cheap" labor is about to go up
Wal*Mart is facing a class action lawsuit from former janitors:
After the raids, nine of the immigrants filed a suit in state court in New Jersey, with Cuban lawyer Gilberto Garcia of law firm Garcia and Kricko. Before that case developed, New York City attorney James L. Linsey of Cohen, Weiss and Simon LLP, contacted Garcia, and the two decided they had a case that was more far-reaching than a state court complaint. Together, they filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of affected Wal-Mart janitors last November. The case, Zavala v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. , makes claims against the company for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act, including overtime violations and minimum pay violations. In addition, it charges Wal-Mart with forced labor, false imprisonment and civil rights violations. To top it off, the lawsuit claims that Wal-Mart--specifically the "Wal-Mart Enterprise"--violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, for operating in criminal conspiracy with its cleaning contractors...
There are 17 class representatives in the lawsuit, including Victor Zavala of Mexico, for whom the case is named, each with a similar story that, even in dry legal language, shows a known pattern of abuse at the hands of Wal-Mart's contractors. Zavala worked for Wal-Mart for 36 months for a weekly sum of $500. Many others in the suit were paid only $350 a week. Though Zavala and the others were obligated to work seven days a week, for 60 hours or more, they received no overtime pay. They and others were locked in the stores at night and could not leave unless a Wal-Mart store manager came to release them. As Linsey explains, the janitors were locked in to prevent "inventory shrinkage." The janitors received no sick leave pay and had no taxes withheld from their pay. Of the meager wages they earned, many of the workers were required to pay an additional $500 "security deposit" to their employers to ensure that they would not leave, a sum that was never returned.
One of the janitors, Antonio Flores, who is diabetic, cut his hand severely while working for Wal-Mart. The lawsuit states "because he was locked in, he was forced to wait until the next morning to go to a hospital." One 26-year-old man from the Czech Republic spoke to the Prague Post last year about his three-day experience working for Wal-Mart, a job he quit due to the horrible conditions. Ondra, who refused to give his last name, said, "I met two [Czech] guys. They were in Chicago for two years. All they did was work, cleaning every day, 365 days a year. They had never been to the downtown Chicago Loop. ...It's slavery..."
The lawsuit is described at walmartjanitors.com.
While many of the supporters of suits like this will be the usual "liberal" suspects, they could play a key role in limiting illegal immigration. These suits could lead to both negative publicity and large settlements. The former would cost the companies sales, and the latter would increase their cost of doing business. That would have the effect of making illegal labor less desirable.
That would cause the businesses to push all the harder for some sort of "guest" worker program. However, it might also cause some of them to make the decision that "cheap" illegal labor just isn't worth it, and that it's better to use automation or raise wages to attract legal workers.