Beverly Hills Bakery Blues: Rich Immigrants Exploit Poor Immigrant Workers

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By Joe Guzzardi

Joe is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow whose commentaries about California's social issues have run in newspapers throughout California and the country for nearly 30 years. Contact Joe at joeguzzardi@capsweb.org, or find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

The writer's views are his own.

February 16, 2016

Few United States cities are more sympathetic to illegal immigration than Beverly Hills. Many wealthy residents have incomes high enough to hire the nannies, gardeners and housekeepers they consider essential to their lifestyles, but who are nonetheless unlawful U.S. residents.

For the most part, personal staff of the rich and famous are paid fairly and treated well. But last year, one prominent Beverly Hills business and a favorite haunt of the stars, L’Amande French Bakery, was found exploiting the Filipino employees it lured to the U.S. with the promise of riches. The irony in this tale is that immigrants took advantage of their fellow immigrants.

For workers, bakery conditions far from sweet.

As is too often the case, visa fraud was at the heart of a lawsuit 11 former and current bakery employees filed. The workers came to the U.S. on E-2 visas for so-called specialized employees who will work for foreign nationals that have made substantial business investments. But once within the U.S., the federal government rarely follows up to make sure wages are fair and working conditions satisfactory. Because the visa is issued in the employer’s name, the employee has no choice but to comply with the demands made on him or be deported. Another, more accurate name for those types of restrictions is indentured servitude.

The Filipinos’ lawsuit alleges that they were human trafficking victims and worked 17-hour days for less than minimum pay, with no overtime pay. The bakery owners also forced the workers to do construction on their Long Beach apartment complex and landscaping at their Rolling Hills mansion.

Abuses involving the E, F, J, H-1B, H-2A, H-2B and virtually all other visa categories are rampant. But since so few Americans can distinguish one visa from another (and could care less) and the White House knows it can get away with nonenforcement, violations roll on. In the meantime, aspiring pastry chefs or other professional hopefuls eager for an entry level job are flat out of luck.
 

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