gascon.jpgSan Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said his mother was an immigrant who worked a dangerous factory job that was frequently hazardous to her health.

Gascon was one of several local, state and federal officials who joined various consul generals in San Francisco today to mark the start of Labor Rights Week, a campaign to increase awareness of the legal rights of migrant workers, particularly those in the Hispanic community.

“She was often coming home sick,” Gascon said. “She had no idea she had these rights.”

Today’s news conference was held at Mexico’s consulate for San Francisco, led by Consul General Carlos Felix.

“We need to work together,” Felix said.

Workers “need to have access not just to information about their basic rights, but also the means to make a complaint,” he said.

Felix signed a memoranda of understanding with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to help strengthen the protection of Mexican workers’ rights.

Michael Baldonado, director of the EEOC’s San Francisco district office, said his agency’s mission is to end workplace discrimination, noting that his agency helped get a $150,000 settlement in May 2011 for vineyard workers in Sonoma and Mendocino counties who were subject to sexual harassment.

David Shiraishi, director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Oakland office, said migrant workers often work the most dangerous jobs and are vulnerable to abuse because of language barriers or their immigration status.

Shiraishi said the point of the Labor Rights Week is to show that government agencies are there to support the workers.

“Your work has dignity and you matter to us,” he said.

Gascon pledged to prosecute employers who subject workers to unsafe work conditions.

“We want to send a very clear message that our workers are not expendable,” he said.

Today’s event was one of many being held around the nation for Labor Rights Week 2012. Another was also held this morning at the Mexican consulate in San Jose.

The week will also include community outreach sessions, including one at 6 p.m.
Tuesday at the Mexican consulate in San Francisco for restaurant and food service workers and another at 6 p.m. Thursday at Centro La Luz in Sonoma for agricultural workers.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis issued a statement today in recognition of the week.

“Making America’s workplaces safe and fair for everyone is the hallmark of Labor Rights Week,” Solis said. “We’re committed to ensuring that workers are safe on the job and paid what they’re owed by law.”

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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