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By: Dr. Gabriela D. Lemus

The Latino community should wholeheartedly get behind the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).  Introduced March 10, the bill has a majority of support in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, but business groups are spending heavily to make sure the Senate does not reach the 60 votes that it needs to survive a filibuster.

EFCA is important because it levels the playing field for workers by ensuring a more democratic decision-making process that provides employees the room to be full partners with management.   At a minimum, democracy involves freedom of speech and freedom to organize collectively around issues.  In the case of workers, a minimum standard of democracy involves the ability of workers to discuss and debate amongst themselves free of harassment from either unions or corporate management as to whether they would like to join a union.

EFCA would reinvigorate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) giving workers additional protections to bargain collectively and join a union.  Time and again, we have witnessed that the current system for workers to form unions so as to bargain over wages and benefits is broken.  As a result, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) would be better able to ensure that the processes regarding authorization forms are fair, thus preventing coercion from either side.

In 2008, workers represented by unions earned a median weekly salary of $886. This compared to non-unionized workers, with median weekly earnings amounting to $691.

In particular, young men and women just entering the work world benefit from protections that collective bargaining provides.

Latinos are among the youngest population group in the United States. Their median age is 25.8 years – more than 10 years younger than that for the U.S. population as a whole. Also worth mention: they have more children and greater family stability. More than half are fully bilingual.

Needless to say, union membership would assist them not just in earning a livable wage. It could move many into jobs where they learn more skills, take on greater responsibilities gain added benefits

Latino workers want to join unions.  Union membership, long in decline, actually increased in 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics annual report. The unionized share of the U.S. workforce climbed to 12.4 percent last year from 12.1 percent in 2007, an increase of more than 420,000 members.

While the gains were broadly shared across demographic lines and occupations, growth was strongest in the public sector, among Hispanics, and in Western states, driving the largest increase in more than a quarter of a century. More than 120,000 Hispanics became union members last year. Their membership rate rose nearly a full percent to 10.6 percent from 9.8 percent in 2007.

EFCA offers workers added access to such benefits as health insurance and pensions. Management gains from the skill sets, contagious motivation and increased productivity that satisfied workers provide.  It follows that productive workers help companies grow profits and capital for further economic growth.

As President Obama reminds us daily, the need to revitalize our communities is paramount. Urgent. Which communities will succeed in doing so?

Where unions are stronger, not only are wages higher and health insurance more accessible; there are numerous other benefits.  In states with higher union density, it is more likely that poverty will be reduced. There will be more homeowners than renters and better schools because there is greater public education spending per pupil.  The three are inter-related.

Together they bring an unintended benefit – a significant reduction in crime. Compare states where unions are strong with those where they’re weak. In the former, public dollars are more likely to go to schools and less likely to building jails.

By bolstering the middle class, educating our communities and ensuring they are healthy, we give people hope.  That’s the essence of the American Dream. The Employee Free Choice Act can help make it real again.

Dr. Gabriela D. Lemus is executive director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), with headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Ponte Al Dia

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On Thursday evening, President Obama continued his media blitz appearing on Univision’s longest-running and most popular music awards show “Premio Lo Nuestro”. It was an effort to reach out to the Hispanic community urging them to let their voices be heard in this tough economic time.

Obama said, “Buenas noches. I want to thank the millions of you who voted for tonight’s winners, and I also want to thank all of you who voted in that other election back in November – even if it wasn’t for me,” His pre-recorded message aired during Univision’s live coverage of the Latin music awards from Miami’s BankUnited Center.

“With the challenges we face right now, it is absolutely critical that you stay involved and make your voices heard. I want you to know that I will always be listening, and my Administration is working hard so that we can expand opportunity for all Americans and reach that better day,” he continued. “Now I know you tuned in for ‘Premio Lo Nuestro,’ so let me get right to it. I don’t know who’ll get married tonight or who’ll get Video of the Year, but I know you’re in for some great performances that celebrate the rich diversity of Latin music, and that’s good news. ”

Obama even spoke in Spanish, “So enjoy the show, y para los nominados que se preguntan si esta será su noche, les digo, ¡si se puede!”

Translation: “And for all those nominees wondering if tonight is their night, let me just say, ‘yes you can!’ ”

His bilingual message of hope and civic engagement at the music event “demonstrates the continued growth and influence of Hispanics in this country and the importance of speaking to them directly,” said Joe Uva, Univision’s CEO.

Big acts of the evening included Enrique Iglesias, Juanes, Alejandra Guzman, Emmauel, Reggaeton duo Wilsin y Yandel, Puerto Rican salsa band NG2, Aventura, Victor Manuelle and Mexican band La Arrolladora Banda el Limon.

Obama is no stranger to Univision. During his campaign, the Univision website hosted two historic forums with Democratic and Republican presidential candidates and co-hosted a debate with CNN.

A record turnout of nearly 10 million Hispanic voters in 2008 helped reshape the political map by defining the election in key Southwestern states as well as in Florida, Indiana, and Virginia.

Boston Globe

Associated Press

Huffington Post

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Yesterday, Homeland Security Secretary  Janet Napolitano delivered the Obama administration’s plan to deal with drug-related violence in Mexico by sending 500 more federal (agents to the U.S.-Mexico border and also address the issue of  U.S.-purchased guns being smuggled south by violent drug cartels.

The announcement included a comprehensive outline of how $700 million approved by Congress to aid Mexico will be spent. The money was approved under the Merida Initiative, a security pact made under the Bush administration between the U.S., Mexico and countries in Central America.

According to Napolitano, the U.S. departments of Justice, Treasury and Homeland Security will be putting more federal personnel on the border to inspect all Mexico-bound vehicles for weapons and money from drug sales. In addition, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will send 100 employees to the border within in the next 45 days to bolster Project Gunrunner, a program that has already resulted in the seizure of thousands of weapons and criminal cases against 1,500 people.

In 2008, more than 6,000 people died in drug-related violence in Mexico, and the situation has only intensified as Mexican police and soldiers battle drug cartels for control of Mexico’s border cities. So far this year, more than 1,000 people have been killed – primarily police officers, soldiers and traffickers.
Yesterday, President Obama also discussed his concerns by the increased level of violence, particularly in Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana, and the impact that the situation is having on both sides of the border.
Officials are concerned that the violence could spread to the U.S., though Texas border officials say that has not happened yet. Napolitano said she has not yet decided if she will send the National Guard to the Texas and Arizona borders as the states’ governors have requested. She said she will discuss the matter Thursday with Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

As previously reported in La Plaza, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to meet tomorrow with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, and the drug war is expected to be a top priority on their agenda.

The Obama administration in its commitment to reduce the demand for illegal drugs at home is focused on integrating substance abuse services into national health care systems with early screening, diagnosis and intervention as regular preventive medicine, as well as work on preventing millions more from becoming addicted to drugs. The effort is being coordinated at the White House through the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council. Dan Restrepo, Director of Western Hemisphere Affairs stresses the importance of the U.S.-Mexico relationship and that both sides are committed to its improvement, “It is being done in a coordination fashion on both sides of the aisle.”

NPR

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In an article today  the Washington Post reports that the Census Bureau is planning on launching a $250 million promotional campaign to encourage participation in the 2010 Census amidst the fears that millions of minorities will be overlooked.

More than half of the funds that will go to advertising will go across traditional and social media, and nearly a quarter will be devoted solely to Asian, black, and Hispanic media outlets.

The Census Bureau’s acting director, Thomas L. Mesenbourg told a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee, “A year from now, the populace will have seen and heard more ads in national and local media than in any prior census”.

In an effort to bolster minority participation, the agency plans on hiring 2,000 temporary employees by the end of June to coordinate efforts with more than 10,000 local organizations and corporations to help encourage more participation from minorities, especially Hispanics who currently are the largest minority group in the country.

In addition, the article says major corporations such as General Mills and Target and civil rights groups including the NAACP will encourage their customers and members to fill out Census forms next year.

Stacey Cumberbach, New York City’s Census coordinator remembers that during the 2000 census, only 55 percent of New York residents responded to the questionnaires, compared with 66 percent nationally. This is exactly what they are trying to avoid in the 2010 Census.

Cumberbach says, “While the census is a federal responsibility, there must be earlier and ongoing communication and accountability to local governments and communities.”

However, during the current economic downturn there certainly will be obstacles with coordination with local governments due to tight budgets, according to Robert Goldenkoff of the Government Accountability Office. Also, the Census Bureau suspects that some Hispanics will refuse to answer questions because of their distrust of government or fear of exposing their illegal immigration status.

At a forum last Wednesday sponsored by the Brookings Institution and National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), Census officials and other experts also warned that increases in foreclosure and unemployment rates would serve as barriers in correctly counting the population during the 2010 census. Officials fear many families are in the middle of moving and will not receive their Census.

Arturo Vargas, executive director of NALEO, said minority populations are more likely to be affected because they are being hit harder by job losses and foreclosures.

Vargas says, “Another undercount of the Latino community, of which there has been in every single census, simply represents a failed census.”

Research done by the Census Bureau shows that many Hispanics “believe answers can be used against them,” according to Frank A. Vitrano, a division chief at the bureau who oversees planning and coordination for the 2010 count.

Washington Post

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Demographics in our nation’s schools are changing according to new analysis conducted by  The Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, and Hispanics are no longer the minority anymore.

Latino children now constitute a majority or near majority of first graders in nine of the nation’s largest cities, according to analysis conducted by the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute (TRPI) at the University of Southern California. In cities such as Los Angeles and Dallas, the percentage of Hispanic first graders is even higher – three out of four first graders in these school districts are Latino. In 2020, this demographic wave of Latino first graders will graduate from high school and enter collegiate education or the labor market.

“The future is now in terms of challenges presented to school districts across the nation by this influx of Latino youth,” stated Harry Pachon, President of TRPI and professor of public policy at the University of Southern California. “A large percentage of these students are U.S. citizens by birth,” Pachon continued. “Paradoxically, our public schools are in the unusual position of teaching English to native born American children.”

Columbia Professor Rodolfo de la Garza and Vice President of Research at the TRPI observed, “This is a profound demographic change, which provides a challenge for American education, just as European immigrants created a new foundation for New York through their ambition to excel and succeed. Latinos, if provided support and respect, will be in a position to strengthen our cities and our nation.”

The Tomás Rivera Policy Institute is a nonprofit, independent institution founded in 1985 specialized in the key issues that affect the Latino community, including education, political participation, access to healthcare, economic well-being, mass media, and immigration. The Institute is affiliated with the School of Policy, Planning and Development at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles – with an office at Columbia University in New York.

To find out more information about this report please visit: “Majority/Near-Majority of First Graders in Top Ten U.S. Cities are Latino

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Former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros has announced he will create a nonprofit that will help integrate Latino immigrants to U.S. society by helping them improve their English and expanding their participation in military service and civic activities.

Cisneros, who previously served in the Clinton administration, said he hopes to launch the group this coming year to demonstrate the significance of immigrants and show the invaluable and necessary role they will play in the country’s future.

His nonprofit will work collaboratively with churches, schools and other nonprofits to offer a “life plan” on how people can integrate into American society. The plan would include educating parents on the U.S. education system and how they can help their children advance academically as well as promoting their responsibility in building the nation’s future.

Cisneros said,” We’ve got to get beyond just the basics of legalization and citizenship.” He mentioned that leaving 12 million people undocumented is not what the Unite States should do when it is need of workers. Latinos currently make up 15 percent of the U.S. population and in 2050 will be a quarter of the population.

“Is America going to be populated by a population that is large but poor, undereducated, underproductive, alienated in due course for lack of opportunity?” he asked. “Or is it a going to be populated by a community that is large but has infused with the education and skills so that it is one of the contributors to the energy, the creativity the productivity of this country going forward?”

Following President Barack Obama’s message of multiculturalism, Cisneros in a new book, “Latinos and the Nation’s Future,” has stated that the advancement of this country depends on the progress of the Latino population.

Associated Press

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In a new report released by the Arizona-based Southwest Institute for Research on Women (SIROW); Arizona reportedly has 300 immigrant women who are incarcerated.

Problems that negatively impact the welfare of female immigrants are discussed in Unseen Prisoners: A Report on Women in Immigration Detention Facilities in Arizona, including serious issues that affect many Latinas who are in immigration detention.

With regards to inadequate medical care, a woman was detained while six months pregnant while she had a potentially dangerous ovarian cyst, and lacked prenatal vitamins or extra padding for her bed. Also,many immigrant women detainees are mixed with people actually serving criminal sentences, women that who are potentially dangerous. The majority of women interviewed in this report were separated from at least one U.S. citizen child. In addition,  a majority of the women serving time in Arizona prisons have been transferred from out of state.

Many immigration detainees are in administrative court proceeding rather than criminal court proceeding. However, women in immigration confinement are treated like criminals, including limited access to recreation, a complete absence of activities, a small provision of food, and a routine use of strip searches and shackling during transport.

The report offers recommendations for Congress, Department of Homeland Security and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about how they can improve the treatment of immigrant women in detention.

· Congress: Pass legislation to require DHS to establish legally enforceable procedures for the timely and effective delivery of medical care to immigration detainees.

· DHS: Provide enforceable regulations to guarantee women appropriate gynecological and obstetrical care.

· ICE: Halt or strictly limit the practice of detaining nursing mothers and pregnant women to cases in which no alternative arrangements exist.

Latina Lista

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