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dollarIn early June, it came to light that last October, Walt Disney World Orlando eliminated the jobs of 250 data systems employees. The move made national news not because so many workers became jobless, but because Disney offered a severance bonus to employees who remained with the firm long enough to train the young immigrant workers who would assume their tasks.

The heartlessness of this move left workers and consumers reeling. A former Disney employee told a reporter for the New York Times, “It was so humiliating to train someone else to take over your job. I still can’t grasp it.” Outrage spread across news and social media, fueled by dismay that a company so closely associated with wholesome family entertainment would betray its workers in this way.

Many observers lamented loopholes in the H-1B visa program used to secure the replacement workers’ entry to the US, and endorsed reforms that would reduce impacts on American workers. Relatively few seem to grasp that Disney’s moves are rooted not in policy loopholes or corporate malfeasance, but instead are part and parcel of capitalism. Outsourcing, layoffs and swiftly severed ties – this is what capitalism looks like. As Karl Marx pointed out in his Manifesto of the Communist Party, workers, who under capitalism “must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.” The “increasing improvement” of production methods “ever more rapidly developing, makes their livelihood more and more precarious.” Manual workers confronted this reality decades ago, as plants in the United States closed and production moved overseas to take advantage of lower-cost labor. Increasingly, professional workers are also feeling the pain of displacement. And there is only more to come.

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Lucas (Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Lucas (Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

By Ben A. Rissing and Emilio J. Castilla

Immigration reform has returned to the forefront of U.S. political debate as a result of President Barack Obama’s November 2014 executive order.  Yet, proposed immigration reform measures have not attended to the process by which immigrant applicants are assessed – And many aspects of U.S. immigrant evaluation systems are opaque and discretionary.

In a study recently published in the American Sociological Review, we examine the first stage of one such work authorization process, the labor certification program, which is required for the granting of most employment-based green cards in the United States.  We find that there is substantial variation in approval outcomes associated with foreign workers’ country of citizenship.   Specifically, while 90.5 percent of workers from Asia are approved by government agents, only 66.8 percent of foreign workers from Latin America are approved.  These disparities exist even after controlling for salary, job title, job skill level requirement, location, industry, and prior visa.  However, when applications are evaluated with detailed employment-relevant information obtained through government application audits, we find that approvals are equally likely for immigrant workers from the vast majority of citizenship groups. Read More

Rachael’s post insightfully delves into the ways that The Help has served to motivate domestic workers to organize and push for better treatment, as well as the ways that the film reinforces racialized narratives and stereotypes.  While the film and book are fictional stories based on historical material, sociological research on race, gender, and work provide more nuanced, accurate portrayals of the challenges, issues, and obstacles domestic workers encounter.

In a 2003 article published in the Annual Review of Sociology, sociologists Irene Browne and Joya Misra consider whether the literature on work and occupations provides support for the arguments made by intersectionality theorists. Specifically, inasmuch as an intersectional approach contends that issues of race, gender, class, and other categories are overlapping rather than singular and mutually exclusive, Browne and Misra examine whether key areas studied by researchers in the sociology of work show evidence of this overlap. As part of their analysis, Browne and Misra look at the literature on domestic workers to consider whether this indicates interactions of race, gender, and class. These authors note that the overwhelming preponderance of women of color–particularly immigrant women of color–in this profession signifies employers’ preference for certain workers to do this type of labor. Additionally, the low pay afforded to most domestic workers further signifies the ways that race, gender, class—and in this case, nationality—are intertwined.

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More than a decade ago I was asked to organize an “Author Meets Critics” session dealing with Richard Sennett’s Corrosion of Character.  Given the author’s prominence, it was no surprise when 200 people showed up for the session, and heard a set of probing comments from a distinguished panel. I reserved a few minutes for my own humble comments, and took that opportunity to lament how rarely our works succeed (as Sennett’s often do) in resonating with lay audiences. An old lament, I know. But it’s true. As a former colleague once put it, it’s as if many of us aren’t entirely comfortable allowing perfect strangers to buy our books.

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