Two Janitors’ Stories Show How High Immigration Leads to American Worker Displacement, and Creates Income Inequality

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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.

September 5, 2017
janitor bucket and mop
Apple’s richest okay with their immigrant employees earning $16.60
hourly without benefits.

A fascinating New York Times story inadvertently underlined how high immigration contributes to American worker displacement, and further lines the pockets of the already fabulously wealthy. 

Titled "A Tale of Two Janitors," the story focuses on Hispanic Maria Ramos and African-American Gail Evans. Ramos works at Apple’s Cupertino headquarters, and in the 1980s Evans worked at Kodak, both major U.S. corporations.

Adjusted for inflation, Evans and Ramos’ earnings are about equal: $16.60 hourly. But back in pre-immigration America, Evans was a full-time Kodak employee, with paid vacations, an annual bonus, and partial college tuition re-imbursement. Kodak treated Evans with dignity and respect even though she wasn’t an executive. When the plant Evans worked at closed, Kodak relocated her so that her income stream wasn’t interrupted. Evans put her college time to good use. She studied computer science, graduated, and within a decade became Kodak’s chief IT officer. Evans subsequently parlayed her Kodak corporate suite status into senior management positions at other major corporations.

No such luck for Hispanic Ramos, not an Apple employee but rather a contracted worker---no paid vacation, no bonuses, neither the time nor the money to go to school, and therefore, no future. 

American blue collar workers, black and white, populated the 1980s Rochester. But 21st Century Bay Area employers have large numbers of legal and illegal immigrants they can hire. Subcontracting is a convenient way to pay little and to skirt the authorities if per chance immigration authorities want to check an employee’s work authorization status: Employer to ICE: “Don’t look at me. The contractor hired her.”

Immigration expands the labor market, and depresses wages, obviously bad for American workers. Lower-skilled, under-educated workers get hit the hardest. In some communities, unemployment among working-age blacks is 50 percent.

Apple could certainly afford to do better by Ramos and to give her the benefits Evans once enjoyed. Last year, Apple earned $45 billion on $217 billion in sales, and has assets of $331 billion and a $752 billion market cap. In 2016, Apple’s five top executives earned nearly $23 million each. Yet, the richly rewarded are content to let Ramos struggle on $16.60 an hour without benefits--- in the ultra-expensive Bay Area.

Immigration helps America’s top one percent, but hurts the remaining 99 percent.
 
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