Posted on May 1, 2006

Statement of Attorney General’s Office Regarding May 1 “National Day Of Action For Immigrant Rights”

New York State Attorney General press release, April 28, 2006

This Office has received inquiries about the legal obligations of employers to accommodate employees’ requests to take time off to participate in activities scheduled for May 1 recognizing the contributions of working immigrants to the national economy and local communities. Some businesses will be closing for the demonstrations, while others will remain open.

My office has received information that some employers are threatening to fire or take other action against employees who take time off for this purpose. There have been reports in the press that workers who attended previous demonstrations were fired solely for their attendance at those events.

Federal labor law protects every employee’s right to engage in concerted activities for “mutual aid and protection,” including calling for change in existing laws to improve working conditions. The courts have held that participation by employees in demonstrations and rallies like those planned for May 1 are protected activities under that provision.

Employers may impose reasonable requirements needed to keep their businesses functioning, and employees must comply with those requirements. However, if adverse action, including discharge, is taken against employees solely because of their participation in these activities, the employer may be found to have violated the rights of those employees and could be subject to legal action.

Employers need to carefully consider what reasonable limitations on their employees’ participation are truly necessary to the functioning of their businesses. Employers and employees are urged to cooperate to avoid violations of law.

New Jersey Attorney General Zulima Farber says she plans to participate at a rally today in Newark in support of undocumented immigrants.

Farber said she decided to attend the rally, which has been organized by a coalition of grass-roots immigrant organizations, to make clear her view that undocumented immigrants should have an opportunity to legalize their status, and that they should not be treated as criminals.

The rally is the latest in a series of protests this year, in New Jersey and elsewhere in the nation, against congressional proposals to make it a felony to be in the United States illegally.

Supporters of strict immigration enforcement want illegal immigration classified as a crime, instead of a civil violation. Farber’s participation in the rally would be the highest-profile involvement yet in such protests by a state government official in New Jersey — and among the highest-profile in these protests in the country.

“These laws would make it a felony, a very serious offense,” Farber said. “It’s saying that an undocumented immigrant is in the same status as being a bank robber or a murderer. But being undocumented is not in the same planet.”

While many of New Jersey’s political leaders — in particular, Hispanic elected officials — have come under fire for skipping the protests, Farber said she decided her presence today would be critical.

“It’s important to show the immigrant community, their families and the immigration advocates that we stand ready in New Jersey to protect all of our residents,” she said. “There are police departments in New Jersey that have refused to participate in the immigration agency’s raids because they do not want immigrants to be afraid to report crimes to them when they have been victimized.

“They would lose the confidence of the immigrant community in their town, and they would also lose the ability to properly enforce laws, if didn’t have the trust and participation of immigrants in investigations,” she said.