On behalf of working people and particularly the working poor, I would like to express frustration with the Reader's coverage of Social Security "no-match" letters. "Work Stoppage" (August 23), by Ernesto Londono, contains factual errors, errors of omission, and worst of all a snide attitude toward the workers whose plight he reports on.
Londono's article focuses on Hilda Vasquez, a worker from Gingiss Formalwear who was dismissed due to a no-match letter. If Londono weren't so busy patronizingly describing Vasquez's appearance--her "heavy black eyeliner," her "comfy black worn-out sneakers"--then maybe he would have time to get his facts straight. It's amazing that in a story about a worker, Londono didn't even manage to report correctly about the work Vasquez did for Gingiss. She was not a seamstress, as Londono wrote; she worked mostly in the kitchen, at times helping with other work around the plant, like cleaning and ironing.
Londono does not quote from the no-match letters, which plainly state that "any employer that uses the information in this letter as a pretext for taking adverse action against an employee may violate state or federal law and can be subject to legal consequences. Moreover, this letter makes no statement about your employee's immigration status." Instead, he makes it seem like ACORN and Vasquez have no legal basis for opposing actions taken against workers due to the no-match letters.
Since ACORN launched a campaign for Gingiss workers, the Chicago City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling for all companies to follow a code of conduct when dealing with no-match letters. If Gingiss had followed this code of conduct, Hilda Vasquez would still have her job. Londono doesn't even mention the City Council ordinance, which was passed almost a month before his article was published. Since the start of the Gingiss campaign ACORN has also been able to save 33 jobs at other companies. The Chicago Federation of Labor has trained union reps on how to deal with the no-match problem. Hundreds more workers have been organized and educated on their rights on the job in the face of SSA no-match letters.
At the end of the article, Londono condescendingly editorializes that the only thing Ms. Vasquez gained from her efforts against Gingiss was a "bright red ACORN T-shirt." Too bad he didn't ask her what she'd gained, rather than speaking for her. Maybe she would have mentioned the pride she's gained by standing up to her boss to demand fair treatment. Maybe she would have mentioned the respect she's gained among her coworkers and other immigrant workers as a fighter for her community and her people. Ms. Vasquez is seen as a role model who took on the first corporate target in the no-match fight and has started to clear the path for others coming behind her. Fortunately for the labor movement and the immigrant rights movement in this country, there are everyday heroes like Hilda Vasquez who will take a stand for justice. Unfortunately for all of us, there are journalists out there like Londono who trivialize their struggle and belittle them with bad reporting.
Little Village ACORN
Ernesto Londono replies:
In several interviews, Hilda Vasquez told me that one of her jobs was costura, Spanish for "seamstress." She did say her duties varied depending on the season. Regarding the City Council resolution you mention, the city clerk's office has no record of it having passed.
Although it is true that the no-match letters make no statement about an employee's immigration status, an employee's inability to produce a legitimate social security number raises a red flag. As I pointed out in my story, employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers are breaking the law. That was the reason Gingiss officials gave its former employees, ACORN members, and me for the ultimatum they gave the workers in question. If ACORN and Vasquez truly have a "legal basis for opposing actions taken against workers," I'm surprised they haven't filed a lawsuit.