About 100 people attended the March 15 program, held at the Holy Redeemer Church. Other sponsors included immigrant rights groups in the greater Boston area, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1445, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 254.
UFCW Local 1445 has attempted three organizing drives at Kayem Foods, a large meat processing plant in the Boston area with a majority immigrant work force. SEIU Local 254 organizes janitors here who waged a contract fight last fall against the Boston cleaning bosses.
‘No match’ letters aid anti-union drive
A letter sent by the union to workers at Kayem Foods earlier this year stated, "The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445 is concerned that the no-match letters may be used by Kayem Foods as a pretext to retaliate against employees who participated in our recent effort to form a union--a right guaranteed under federal law that is central to the needs, interests, and dignity of employees."
Daniel Avalos, a worker fired from Kayem in February, spoke at the meeting. "I got a letter from the company telling me they wanted me to meet with Human Resources," Avalos said. "They told me, ‘we need more proof of your social security number.’"
Avalos said he knew he didn’t have to talk to the boss about his immigration status, but eventually he showed the company his work permit. "I wanted to set an example to others that you don’t have to comply," he said.
Two weeks after his run in with the company over his social security number he was fired. A flyer circulated in the Kayem plant in Spanish and English by his supporters explained, "They fired him for a mistake made by a group of workers in the department.... We wonder if Daniel was targeted. Two weeks before he was fired for the mistake in the department the company had threatened him around his social security number, which is completely in order today."
Avalos had been active in the organizing drives at Kayem.
Fernando Lemus, a UFCW organizer, introduced Avalos to the meeting. He also introduced two workers from Genoa Sausage, another food processing plant in the area owned by Kayem Foods. Lemus said the two workers from Genoa had lost their jobs because of "no match" letters.
The UFCW organizer said that Kayem "uses every trick in the book.... After asking workers for more proof, some people answer explaining their legal situation and the company replies, ‘We can’t keep you.’"
According to the Boston Globe, Kayem Foods received letters identifying 51 workers whose social security numbers did not match their names in the federal database. Several workers quit, and five were fired.
Scott Farmelant, a spokesman for Kayem Foods, told the Globe, "They were terminated because they admitted saying they gave false social security numbers. We’re prohibited by law from hiring anyone who is illegal."
In an open letter in the April 3, 2003, Chelsea Record, Ray Monkiewicz, president of Kayem Foods, said they received a letter from the Social Security Administration (SSA) in March 2002 informing them of employees whose social security numbers did not match their records. The SSA letter asked Kayem to respond within 60 days with any changes. The company sent letters to the affected employees.
In December 2002, according to Monkiewicz, Kayem decided to "revisit the issue" and sent out another letter to employees.
Workers at Kayem Foods had lost a union election in August 2002.
Lemus pointed out at the meeting that "no company has the right to ask about a worker’s legal status after they have been hired. The problem is between the SSA and the worker."
In 2002, the SSA sent out over 950,000 "No Match" letters. The purpose of the letters, according to the government agency, is to help ensure that workers’ earnings are properly credited so when they retire or if they become disabled they are eligible for Social Security benefits.
Unmatched funds are held in the "Earnings Suspense File." This fund has now grown to more than $300 billion.
Intrusion started under Clinton
The SSA program of sending out letters began in 1994, under the administration of William Clinton. In the past, the letters were sent to companies with a relatively large number of employees with mismatched Social Security numbers. Last year, the government implemented a change. Letters are now sent to every company that has even one employee whose number does not match.
Ana Avendaño, a lawyer with the National Immigration Law Center in Washington DC, who spoke at the meeting stated, "There are many reasons why the numbers don’t match. The most common reason is a woman gets married and doesn’t change her name, or names or numbers are transposed or misspelled."
More than 100,000 immigrants lost their jobs last year because of the letters, Avendaño said, and there has been no change in the amount of money in the "Earnings Suspense File." Next year the SSA is planning to go back to the initial basis on which letters were sent to employers.
"However, something worse is being planned," Avendaño said. "A pilot program is being tested." Under the new program an employer can go at anytime to a web page set up by the SSA, enter a password, and find out the status of any one of their employees’ Social Security numbers.
A number of immigrant rights groups are planning street protests against these assaults on the rights of immigrant workers, such as a May Day rally in defense of immigrant rights. "May 1 will be a very important day," María Elena Letona told participants at the March 15 meeting.
Ted Leonard is a meat packer at the Kayem Foods plant in Chelsea, Massachusetts.
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