Lawyer says immigrant workers wrongfully fired for skipping work to protest
Tony Paris says that in ten years as an attorney filing charges with the National Labor Relations Board, he has never had a case sent to Washington until now.
Apparently, it's because in the current political climate, immigration is a sensitive issue.
“They have to go up through to Washington D.C. and the national office of the NLRB for what they call 'advice',” Paris said. “I was instructed that’s because of the high sensitivity of this issue.”
Back in February, roughly 20 immigrant workers were fired from EZ Industrial Solutions because they skipped work to attend the “Day without Immigrants” protest.
Paris is representing some of the immigrants whom he says were wrongfully terminated. His clients are all Spanish speaking Hispanics, and all but two are female.
Although Michigan is an at-will employment state, Paris says supervisors at EZ Industrial solutions in Macomb County broke other labor rules protected by the National Labor Relations Act.
“You have a specific situation here where an employer decided to make an attendance policy out of thin air that fired people for missing work.”
Paris says before his clients were fired, there was no formal attendance policy at EZ Industrial Solutions. For years, Paris says, workers simply let supervisors know when they weren’t going to be at work, and even employees that did not show up and didn’t call in sick were still allowed to return to work the next day.
“Although you don’t necessarily have an outside protection to miss work, you do have a protection when anything else you’d need to miss work for was totally fine,” Paris said.
EZ Industrial Solutions did not respond to an interview request.
Paris says shortly before the “Day Without Immigrants” protest on February 16, his clients were asked if they planned to skip work to attend the protest. Paris says the workers were than told they would be suspended for a week if they skipped work on the 16th.
Once they returned to work after the protest, Paris says his clients were fired.
“All of the sudden an employee attendance policy was created and unilaterally enforced just to do this. To retaliate against and deter any kind of collective activity these workers engaged in.”
According to Paris, if employees are working together to improve working conditions, their actions are protected under the National Labor Act. He says his clients were taking part in the protest “to let our economy know how important they are to the workforce.”
Paris says a supervisor from EZ Industrial Solutions also questioned one former employee about how she was affording a lawyer to pursue her charge with the NLRB. According to Paris, the same supervisor threatened to call immigration officials.
NLRB investigators used interpreters to help the former employees submit affidavits and fill-out questionnaires, and that is how Paris says he found out about the threats to include ICE.
“One of the workers came forward and said that they had been visited by the employer’s agent, ... and asked her numerous questions,” Paris said, which included threats to involve ICE.
Parris says normally, he aids NLRB investigators before eventually receiving a decision from the NLRB regarding whether there were any labor violations or not. In a normal case he says he’d expect that decision soon.
“In this, it’s unprecedented for me,” Paris said. “I hear that Washington D.C. could have it in 'advice' for a significant period of time before helping our regional (NLRB) office in Detroit Making a ruling. It’s going to be a waiting game at this point.”
Paris says he also believes some of the workers may have been discriminated against, because some employees that might not have attended the “Day Without Immigrants” protest were still fired simply because they appear to be Hispanic.
A second round of May Day “Day Without Immigrants” protests took place today in cities across the country and in Michigan.