May 23, 2003, 10:00PM

Medina is executive vice president of the 1.5 million-member Service Employees International Union, the largest union of immigrant workers in the United States.

Those who risked their lives earned U.S. citizenship


As America begins to welcome home our Iraqi war veterans, among them thousands of immigrant soldiers, it's time for our nation to reform our immigration laws so all hard-working, taxpaying immigrants already in the United States have a path to legalization and citizenship.

At least 12 of the soldiers who sacrificed their lives in Iraq were immigrants -- just a few of the 37,000 immigrants who have not received citizenship who serve in the armed forces. An additional 13,000 immigrants serve in the reserves, ready for active duty if called upon -- and many were during the Iraqi conflict. Tens of thousands more are children of noncitizen or undocumented immigrants.

These soldiers are typical of the millions of immigrants in this country who work hard for the American Dream. The values that lead so many immigrants to enlist in the military -- pride in their adoptive country, a strong commitment to family and community, and a willingness to work hard -- are shared by their civilian counterparts as well.

Many immigrants work in essential, low-paying jobs that most Americans pass over. They care for our children and seniors, clean our office buildings and hotel rooms, harvest and serve our food, and labor on construction sites and other projects in our communities. Immigrants pay taxes and are vital contributors to our economy-- to the tune of $300 billion a year, according to a recent study by the University of California-Los Angeles.

Clearly, our country will be stronger and more united when President Bush and both parties in Congress recognize immigrants' contributions and create a clear path for them to earn legal status. The need to bring our outmoded immigration laws up to date has been discussed for years in Washington. Now, it's time for action.

Reforming our immigration laws to reward work will come too late for Pvt. Ruben Estrella-Soto of El Paso, 18, who was killed when the convoy he was traveling in was ambushed in southern Iraq. He was with the 507th Maintenance Company in Fort Bliss, Texas.

But it wouldn't come too late for Jose H., of Pasadena, who came from Mexico 10 years ago. Jose works the graveyard shift cleaning cement out of the back of pavement trucks.

Remarkably, on top of his duties at work and commitment to his wife and three small children, Jose volunteers for several community projects. Although Jose cannot vote because he is not a citizen, he talked to hundreds of his neighbors last fall to encourage them to go to the polls because he strongly believes in the democratic process in this country.

Immigration reform would also recognize the essential contributions of Adela R., who procures donations for her church's charity drives, in addition to getting up early each morning to run a taco stand at various construction sites.

As a single working mother, she has inspired her four children to be active in their community. One daughter is training to be a nurse, while her son is attending community college studying theatre and film.

Ruben, Jose, Adela and many other immigrants have worked hard for their families and for all of us. Immigrant soldiers who risked their lives in Iraq ought to come home to a country where everyone who works hard, pays taxes and shares our values is recognized for their contribution and provided the citizenship they have earned.


 Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

  May 27, 2003, 12:49AM

New contract on table at Dow plant

Union leaders urge workers to OK deal


Striking operators at Dow Chemical's Texas operations are scheduled to vote Wednesday on a new contract offer that could end the one-week standoff.

The offer was announced late Monday by Dow and Operators Union Local 56 in the Freeport area. The local's leadership has recommended that union members accept the offer.

Charlie Singletary, the union's business manager, said Monday that he could not reveal details of the offer, but that, if approved, members would be called back to work within three days. Dow officials have not released details.

The walkout began May 19 after union members voted 463-409 to strike after labor leaders and company officials failed to reach agreement.

A key issue is a long-standing system of seniority to determine job assignments at Dow's largest chemical plant.

The company wants to put less weight on seniority and select employees for jobs based more on factors such as skills, interest and performance.

About 200 machinists and pipefitters at Dow walked out in sympathy with the operators. The operators rejected a previous offer, but the company and union quickly resumed bargaining.

Union officials were planning to present the details of the new contract to its membership today.

Dow issued a one-paragraph statement, saying the two sides met Sunday and signed a tentative agreement on a proposal.

Eric Timaeus, an auditor for Local 564 picketing outside the plant's gate Monday, said changes were made to the contract from the previous version.

"Personally, I don't feel like they're a big enough change to vote the contract in, but our leadership is asking us to accept the contract," Timaeus told the Facts, a Brazoria County newspaper.

Timaeus said he believed the contract would be approved by union members.

Union members felt Dow's proposal gave process leaders too much power and would result in inexperienced employees passing up those who have put years into the plant. But Dow officials said seniority would still be a factor, just not the only factor.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


 Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

  May 26, 2003, 12:00PM

Employees may soon be cheated out of OT pay


CONGRESS is trying to pull a fast one on your right to overtime pay. Members want to cut overtime protection for workers, but they are doing so in a sneaky way. They claim to want to give workers more flexibility with their schedules. The only flexible thing about their plan is that it would stretch your work week beyond 40 hours without your boss having to pay you an extra dime. And for those of you who rely on overtime pay, your wallet may be in for some stretching, too. A Republican-led bill in the U.S. House would take away mandatory overtime pay and allow employers to give you compensatory time off ("comp time") instead. The version in the U.S. Senate would take away overtime pay and the 40-hour work week. Under the Senate version, your boss could ask you to work 60 hours one week and 20 the next -- but until you worked more than 80 hours in two weeks, you wouldn't qualify for overtime. Republicans argue that the law has to be changed so that soccer moms and dads can have extra hours with the kids and that parents need to change the law to get more time off. Don't believe it for a minute. The so-called Family Time Flexibility Act does not provide any more work-schedule flexibility for workers than they already have under current law. Under this legislation, all the flexibility and all the important decision-making rights would go to your boss. Employers would still choose when workers can take their comp time off. You may have the hours in the bank, but your boss still has ultimate control over when you can use them. There's no legal guarantee you can use your time for a medical emergency, get off early to see a holiday pageant at school or take a family vacation. In fact, it is far more likely that employers would encourage workers to use comp time when business is slow instead of when you need the time. That way your boss gets to work you overtime during busy times at basically no cost. For those of you who want or need to work overtime, hang on to your wallet. Cost-conscious bosses could give extra hours to workers who accept free comp time instead of workers who want to be paid in cash. So workers who could count on overtime pay in the past can now count on a pay cut in the future. Millions of workers depend on cash overtime to supplement their incomes. In March 2003, overtime pay accounted for 13 percent of the weekly paycheck of the average manufacturing worker, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Without this supplemental income, many workers would not be able to pay their housing, health care or food bills. They might be forced to take a second job just to earn the extra income they need to provide for their families. Despite the shattering pain caused to employees at Enron and WorldCom, the Republican plan does nothing to compensate workers if their company goes bankrupt before they use their comp time. Last year, 550,000 businesses closed their doors. If their employees had banked comp time, most likely they'd be out of luck and out of cash. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 guaranteed workers in America the right to a 40-hour workweek and a two-day weekend. It makes no sense to turn back the clock and deny overtime pay to those who work more than 40 hours a week. Chavez-Thompson is the executive vice president of the AFL-CIO.


 Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle