day laborer news
By Bonnie Hobbs | Wednesday, November 16, 2011 | Source: ConnectionNewspapers.com
For a long time, members of the Centreville Immigration Forum have worked to provide a safe place where the community’s day laborers could connect with employers to find jobs. It would take the laborers off the streets by the library and shopping centers and make sure they’d be paid fairly for an honest day’s work.
And now, the once-distant vision of CIF President Alice Foltz, the CIF members and local day laborers is finally reaching fruition. The Centreville Labor Resource Center will open for business Monday, Dec. 5.
“It’s an exciting time and the fulfillment of a dream,” said Foltz. “This shows that problems can be resolved if people work together with open minds and open hearts.”
The center is at 5956 Centreville Crest Lane, beside Brick Pizza, on the lower level of the Centreville Square Shopping Center. It faces Route 29 and the Route 28 on-ramp. It’ll be open Monday-Saturday, from 6 a.m.-noon. CIF volunteers will participate in the day-to-day operation, under the guidance of a full-time, professional director, Shani Moser.
“I want this to be a place of confidence, security and stability that becomes part of the daily routine for the immigrant community,” she said. “I also want to show the [Centreville] community the benefit of having this center and that their support is well-founded.”
Al Dwoskin, who owns the Centreville Square Shopping Center, initially proposed the idea for the center, donated one of his storefronts for it and will pay for utilities. Funding for salaries and other items comes from grants and private donations.
Two upcoming events will introduce it to the public:
* Friday, Dec. 2, from 4-7 p.m. – Open House for tenants of Centrewood Plaza and Centreville Square businesses. CIF members will host the event, serve refreshments and greet the businesspeople who stop by. Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) will speak at 4:30 p.m. For more information about the CIF, go to www.CentrevilleImmigrationForum.org.
* Saturday, Dec. 3, from noon-4 p.m. – Open House for the community, with refreshments and a ribbon-cutting at noon. Frey and other local leaders will be on hand at 2 p.m.
For more information, call the center at 571-278-1961 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Se trata de una cooperativa que importa café orgánico de Nicaragua.
Por Agencia EFE | 2011-11-01 | Source: La Raza
Chicago (EFE) - Un grupo de jornaleros latinos ha creado Café Chicago, una cooperativa que importa café orgánico de Nicaragua, lo procesa y vende de manera creativa y exitosa para mejorar sus condiciones laborales, económicas y sociales.
“Buscábamos una forma alternativa para hacer negocios y el modelo vino de América Latina”, dijo Eric Rodríguez en una entrevista con Efe.
Para ello, inmigrantes procedentes de Ecuador, Colombia y México, y algunos puertorriqueños como Rodríguez, unieron recursos y conocimientos para enfrentar el mercado laboral sacudido por la crisis económica y “demostrar que somos capaces de la auto-suficiencia”.
“En nuestros países de origen la experiencia cooperativa ocupa lugares destacados, y creemos que Café Chicago puede sostenernos a largo plazo”, dijo Rodríguez, quien ha trabajado desde 2002 en la organización de los jornaleros de esta ciudad con la Unión Latina.
Rodríguez, licenciado en administración de empresas sin fines de lucro, cree en el “comercio justo” que se puede realizar a través de una cooperativa para favorecer a los sectores “más vulnerables”.
Uno de los ejemplos a seguir es la Fundación Entre Mujeres (La FEM) de Nicaragua, una cooperativa que produce y exporta café y además se dedica a la educación, salud y promoción de los derechos femeninos.
La FEM está ubicada al este de la ciudad de Managua, en el departamento de Estelí, donde la mayor parte de la tierra se dedica al tabaco pero igualmente hay espacio para que 132 mujeres produzcan desde 1996 un café de excelente calidad.
Cada dos meses llegan a Chicago 1,500 libras de café en grano verde, que los cooperativistas de Café Chicago procesan en una tostadora prestada que aprendieron a usar, empaquetan y venden a $15 por libra, o $40 por tres libras.
Al promocionar el producto en su página en internet la cooperativa menciona el trabajo de Tony e Iván en el tostado del café, a Norberto que recorre comercios en busca de clientes o Marisol que procesa los pedidos.
Pero también están Manuel, Pablo, Patricio, Salvador, José, Armando, Héctor, Jorge, Elisa, José Louis, Michael y David, cuyos apellidos prefieren mantener en reserva para evitar posibles problemas con Inmigración.
“Café Chicago” se presenta como una cooperativa de café de trabajadores inmigrantes, unidos en un nuevo modelo de creación de trabajo, capacitación y acción social, cuyos beneficios se dedican a apoyar a la Unión Latina.
“Creemos en la justicia en cada paso en el proceso del café, y vamos en serio”, afirman.
La Unión Latina surgió en 2002 después de una huelga masiva de jornaleros que detuvo el funcionamiento de 75 agencias de trabajo denunciadas por abusos contra los trabajadores temporales.
Los jornaleros hicieron una huelga de hambre que obligó a la Asamblea Legislativa de Illinois a aprobar la Ley de Servicios Laborales Diarios, modificada tres años después para permitir que esos trabajadores se organizaran y abogaran por sus derechos en el lugar de trabajo.
El gran problema de cientos de hombres que todas las mañanas se reúnen en esquinas de la ciudad a la espera de un trabajo en construcción, pintura, jardinería, carpintería, mudanza o remoción de escombros era el robo de salarios, el acoso de la policía y la exposición a las inclemencias del tiempo durante el invierno.
En diciembre de 2004 la Unión Latina abrió su primer centro para jornaleros de la construcción en el Medio Oeste, en un local del barrio Albany Park, como alternativa al tradicional “contrato de esquina”.
Quienes buscan ayuda van al centro, discuten el precio y firman un contrato con el jornalero y la ayuda de intérpretes, de ser necesario.
Según la Unión Latina, las denuncias de robo de salarios se redujeron al 1% y el salario promedio aumentó 50%.
CHICAGO – A group of Latino day laborers have founded Cafe Chicago, a cooperative that imports organic coffee from Nicaragua, processes it and sells it creatively – and successfully – to improve their labor, economic and social prospects.
“We were looking for a different way to do business and the model came from Latin America,” Eric Rodriguez said in an interview with Efe.
Immigrants from Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico, along with several Puerto Ricans, pooled their money and know-how to survive in a labor market shaken by economic crisis.
“Cooperatives hold an important place in the countries we come from, and we believe that Cafe Chicago can support us over the long term,” said Rodriguez, the executive director of the Latino Union organization that advocates on behalf of day laborers in the Windy City.
Rodriguez, who has a degree in managing non-profits from Chicago’s North Park University, believes in “fair trade” through cooperatives that favor the “most vulnerable” sectors.
A prime example is Nicaragua’s Among Women Foundation, or FEM, a cooperative that produces and exports coffee and is also dedicated to education, health and promoting women’s rights.
FEM is located in Esteli province where most of the land is used for growing tobacco but also has room for 132 women to grow fine coffee there, as they have done since 1996.
Every month 1,500 pounds of green coffee beans are shipped to Chicago, where the workers at Cafe Chicago process them in a borrowed roaster they learned to use, package the coffee and sell it for $15 a pound, or $40 for 3 pounds.
The cooperative notes on its Web site the work of Tony and Ivan on the coffee roaster, Norberto who visits stores and markets looking for clients, and Marisol who handles the orders.
But also on the job are Manuel, Pablo, Patricio, Salvador, Jose, Armando, Hector, Jorge, Elisa, Jose Louis, Michael and David, who prefer not to give out their last names to avoid any possible immigration troubles.
Cafe Chicago’s profits go to support the Latino Union, which was organized in 2002 after a massive strike by day laborers that shut down the operations of 75 temp agencies where abuses had been reported.
The day laborers staged a hunger strike that prodded the Illinois legislature into passing a law regulating temporary work and giving those workers the right to organize and defend their rights in the workplace.
In December 2004 the Latino Union opened its first workers center, at Albany Park, as an alternative to the traditional “hiring on the corner.”
Employers looking for workers go to the center, discuss the price and sign a contract with the laborer.
According to the Latino Union, reports of stolen wages were slashed to 1 percent and the average wage increased 50 percent since the opening of the Albany Park Workers Center. EFE
By JACQUES BILLEAUD 10/31/11 05:18 PM ET | Source: HuffingtonPost.com
PHOENIX — Groups opposing Arizona’s immigration enforcement law have asked a federal judge to put a stop to a section of the statute that bans the blocking of traffic when people seek or offer day-labor services on streets.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and other opponents filed a preliminary injunction request on Friday seeking to block enforcement of the provision, saying it unconstitutionally restricts the free speech rights of people who want to express their need for work. The request was filed in an existing lawsuit by the groups.
The state can’t justify the statewide ban based on scattered instances of solicitations creating traffic problems in Phoenix, they said, adding that there are already laws on the books to deal with people who block traffic.
The ban was among a handful of provisions in the law that were allowed to take effect after a July 2010 decision by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton halted enforcement of other, more controversial elements of the law. The blocked portions include a requirement that police, while enforcing other laws, question people’s immigration status if officers suspect they are in the country illegally.
Gov. Jan Brewer has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Bolton’s ruling after she lost an appeal in a lower court.
Brewer’s lawyers have also opposed attempts to halt enforcement of the day-labor restrictions, which they argue are meant to confront safety concerns, as well as distractions to drivers, harassment to passers-by, trespassing and damage to property.
They told the court that day laborers congregate on roadsides in large groups, flagging down vehicles and often swarming those that stop. They also said day laborers in Phoenix, Chandler, Mesa and Fountain Hills leave behind water bottles, food wrappers and other trash.
Bolton previously denied an earlier request to block the day labor rules, but opponents were allowed to bring it up again after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on a similar issue in September.
The appeals court had suspended a law from Redondo Beach, Calif., that banned day laborers from standing on public sidewalks while soliciting work from motorists. The court ruled the law violated workers’ free speech rights and was so broad that it was illegal for children to shout “car wash” to passing drivers.
By MIKE RICHMOND, Posted October 31, 2011 at 11:34 a.m. | Source: TCPalm.com
JUPITER — El Sol’s day labor service is experiencing record-high job placement that means higher earnings for workers and a boost to El Sol’s reputation as a source for skilled and reliable men and women to fill a variety of jobs. “”This quarter we have broken all kinds of records,” said El Sol Center Director Jocelyn Skolnik.
On average, 31 workers went to work daily compared to the usual 20 workers per day, resulting in a 55 percent increase in total job placement during the third quarter,she said. The jobs filled were for landscaping, moving, painting, housecleaning, shutter installation, general labor and others.
For those Jupiter workers who are largely dependent on temporary, day labor jobs, the financial impact is significant, Skolnik said. “For a worker that comes every day of the week, this means that instead of expecting only one job per week (or about $68-$80 in earnings) he can expect two to three jobs per week (or approximately $180-$240) Skolnik said.
El Sol’s free day labor service operates seven days a week. Employers furnish tools, provide transportation and pay the workers directly. A total of 7,350 employers have registered to use El Sol’s services. They include many home-owners, businesses and contractors looking for temporary help, although a number of workers have been placed in permanent jobs since El Sol opened in September of 2006.
Skolnik attributed the increased hiring to El Sol’s aggressive efforts to promote the free day labor service through several “Hire A Worker” campaigns this year as well as employers’ satisfaction with the workers that they hired previously. The increase in jobs filled has also been accompanied by an average of 20 new, first-time employers using El Sol’s day labor service, according to Skolnik
She said the high number of new employers coupled with the large number of repeat employers shows that El Sol’s reputation as a convenient place to obtain reliable workers is spreading. “For that we are very grateful,’ Skonik said.
In an effort to improve workers’ skills and job opportunities El Sol has sponsored a number of vocational training classes for such jobs as landscaping, painting, pressure cleaning, housekeeping, hurricane shutter installation and others. Workers have also obtained on the job training in various skills such as roofing, painting and landscaping through volunteer work on Habitat for Humanity home construction and other community service improvement projects.
The nonprofit El Sol Center, at 106 Military Trail, also sponsors English language classes, vocational training, computer classes, a sewing program, in addition to health screenings, financial literacy workshops and others. The Center is open to all Jupiter residents while employers using the day labor service are from throughout the region.
For information on hiring workers or for other services or to volunteer call 561-745-9860.
This story is contributed by a member of the Treasure Coast community and is neither endorsed nor affiliated with TCPalm.com
By Susan Dickson Staff Writer, October 27, 2011 | Posted in: CarrboroCitizen.com
CARRBORO – Following a Tuesday morning press conference at which concerned citizens called for the repeal of Carrboro’s anti-lingering ordinance, a motion to rescind the ordinance by Carrboro Board of Aldermen member Sammy Slade failed, 4-3, at the board’s Tuesday night meeting.
The board approved an anti-lingering ordinance for the intersection of Davie and Jones Ferry roads in November 2007, after residents of the surrounding neighborhood complained of public consumption, public urination and garbage in the areas around the intersection. Day laborers, many of them Latino, often gather at the intersection in hopes that contractors will come by and offer them work. The ordinance prohibits waiting at the intersection from 11 a.m. until 5 a.m.
On Tuesday, a group of residents gathered at the corner at 11 a.m. to unveil a letter to the board signed by 115 Carrboro residents and advocates calling for the board to rescind the ordinance.
At Tuesday night’s board meeting, board members Lydia Lavelle, Dan Coleman and Slade voted to rescind the ordinance, while board members Jacquie Gist, Randee Haven-O’Donnell, Joal Hall Broun and Mayor Mark Chilton voted to uphold it, at least for the time being.
The vote came after Steve Dear, who signed the petition, asked the board at its meeting to repeal the ordinance, and said he planned to start eating lunch on the corner next week.
“I find this to be unfortunate that we have to get to a point where we have citizens pointing out the inconsistencies of our application of this law and challenging us,” Slade said.
“There’s not going to be any kind of constitutional argument someone’s going to make to me to change that vote,” she said.
The board is scheduled to revisit the issue on Nov. 22, and those who voted against the ordinance’s repeal said they wanted to wait to consider it then so that neighbors would be aware that they were doing so.
Broun said she felt those who live close to the corner should have been informed that the motion to repeal was going to be raised.
“It seems to me to be a lack of due process that’s happening right now,” she said, adding that behavior at that corner has been “an ongoing problem.”
In June, the board voted to take another look at the ordinance. Earlier that month, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice sent a letter to the town alleging that the ordinance is unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds and stating that it is “overbroad and vague” and has interfered with workers’ ability to obtain employment during the late-morning and early-afternoon hours.
“What you’re doing right now is actually a crime,” Chris Brook, staff attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, told gatherers at the corner on Tuesday morning.
“It looks like we’re not going to have a problem being here this morning … so we also potentially have a selective enforcement issue,” he added.
Rafael Gallegos, associate director of the Chapel Hill and Carrboro Human Rights Center, told the crowd Tuesday that the current economic climate makes finding work that much harder for day laborers, whose families rely on them. The ordinance makes obtaining jobs especially difficult for day laborers in the winter months, during which many jobs are completed during the warmest part of the day, after 11 a.m.
Elimination of the ordinance “will send a message to those individuals that this community is interested in their well being,” Gallegos said.
Angel Martinez, a day laborer who lives in Abbey Court Apartments, said that finding work as a day laborer has become one of his only options as manufacturing and restaurant jobs have dried up, and that the ordinance makes finding day-labor jobs much more difficult.
Elizabeth Haddix, a staff attorney for the UNC Center for Civil Rights, said the ordinance is a violation of both the first and 14th amendments.
It has “an avert and intentional racial and discriminatory impact, which violates the 14th Amendment,” she said.
Haddix added that while some argue that the ordinance is needed to address issues of littering, public consumption and harassment, “state laws and the town code already address these offenses.”
“This ordinance prohibits a person’s very presence on this corner,” she added.
Chris Kreutzer, who lives across the street from the corner, said he had no problem with day laborers using the corner to find work, but that “this corner has a lot of problems unassociated with people looking for work.”
“People come here to drink. Prostitutes use this parking lot,” he said, adding that people use the bathroom in his yard.
While there are laws in place to prevent such behavior, “They have clearly failed miserably on this corner,” Kreutzer said.
He acknowledged that the ordinance is “imperfect,” but, he added, “Until we find a better solution, I am very much in favor of it.”
Three dozen Carrboro community members, including social justice activists, day laborers and elected officials, assembled in solidarity at the corner of Davie and Jones Ferry roads Tuesday morning and called for an end to the town’s anti-lingering ordinance.
The controversial local law, which passed in 2007, forbids anyone from standing, sitting, reclining, lingering or otherwise remaining on that corner after 11 a.m. Day laborers often assemble on that corner trying to find work.
Supporters of the ordinance say it’s needed to address a few people, many of whom aren’t looking for work, who allegedly drink and cause public disturbances on the corner.
On some days as many as 60 day laborers, many of them Latinos who live across the street at Abbey Court apartments, await trucks coming buy to pick them up for a shift.
Angel Martinez, one of two day laborers who spoke through a translator said he relies on the corner “to live a better life.”
“This is one of the only venues where we can provide for our families,” he said, adding that many who want the ordinance abolished did not attend the event for fear of retribution. “Once we are asked to leave, there’s nowhere else we can go.”
Chris Brook, staff attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which is challenging the constitutionality of the ordinance, read a petition signed by 112 residents. Among the signatures are representatives from the Human Rights Center of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, the Orange County Democratic Party, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro branch of the NAACP, local business owners, former Board of Aldermen members and candidates.
The document, which was hand delivered to Town Hall after the press conference, calls for immediate repeal of the ordinance.
“The ordinance violates the civil and human rights of any person who would otherwise lawfully be present at the intersection,” the petition reads.
“Targeting a single ethnic group in such a fashion shows a level of insensitivity not expected in our town.”
Supporters argued Tuesday that the focus at Davie and Jones Ferry roads should not be on the workers, but rather on those who offer them work. They pointed to examples where laborers were not paid, or paid with bad checks.
“These individuals are often assigned to perform dangerous jobs that are generally rejected by workers with more options,” said Rafael Gallegos, associate director of the Human Rights Center of Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
“As a result day laborers face higher instances of workplace injuries. In addition to these precarious work conditions that they face on a daily basis, day laborers are exposed to the negative aspects of our current economic conditions which include unimaginable hardships for their families.”
The Rev. Robert Campbell, president of the local NAACP, called on the community to stand up to the Board of Alderman and seek immediate change.
“This is one of the most unjust laws there is,” Campbell said. “If we look at it with a clean heart, it oppresses and it allows day laborers to be robbed. … This law enforces poverty when it denies a worker an opportunity to employment.”
Alderman Dan Coleman, who has long opposed the ordinance and called it “discriminatory,” attended the event.
“This is an injustice that the Board of Alderman has the power to correct,” he said.
Though the board expects to discuss the ordinance next month, the best chance for rescinding the ordinance will come after the Nov. 8 election.
All four candidates running for three seats have stated they oppose the ordinance, as has Alderman Sammy Slade. Joal Hall Broun, who will leave office after this term, supports the ordinance. Mayor Mark Chilton and Aldermen Jacquelyn Gist and Randee Haven-O’Donnell also all voted to enact the ordinance in 2007.
That means once the new group is sworn in, the board would split 4-3 against the ordinance.
That said, Coleman noted that the town received a report from the police department last month that noted a decrease in calls to the corner since the ordinance was implemented. Still, a drop in calls could be due to an increase in patrols, he said.
“Neighbors feel like the ordinance has had a positive impact on their experience living in this neighborhood,” Coleman said. “My goal is to rescind the ordinance and put in place some mechanism that will provide a level of comfort and insure a quality of life for people living in the neighborhood both in Abbey Court and going across up Davie Road.”
One neighbor to the site, Chris Kreutzer, said after the press conference that though the ordinance is imperfect, it is needed.
“The community in favor of this law, nobody likes it, nobody thinks it’s great, but I’ve yet to hear a creative solution that works for both sides,” he said.
The press conference occurred at 11 a.m. to intentionally violate the ordinance.
Speakers stood adjacent to a sign that read, “According to Town of Carrboro Ordinance No. 10 of 2007-08 Town Code Section 5-20 … This gathering is illegal. According to the U.S. Constitution it is perfectly fine.”
“We want to exercise (the right to free speech) on this corner where it’s technically forbidden to do so,” Brook said. “Our 1st Amendment rights are allowed to go through, but day laborers’s rights are being infringed upon every day.”
Coleman said his understanding from the town attorney that the press conference was not illegal, but staying around afterward would be a crime.
Added Elizabeth Haddix, staff attorney at UNC’s Center for Civil Rights, “If all of us white people leave here and all the brown and black people stay here, I can guarantee you that the police cars are going to come and pick everybody off the curb.”
“To suggest that this ordinance is consistent with the Constitution and Carrboro’s otherwise progressive reputation is the height of hypocrisy,” Haddix said. “To suggest that this is the best we can do to address the needs of the community is a failure of political will.”
A new report shows how wage theft reaches deep into the low-wage economy.
“The Movement to End Wage Theft” illustrates the problem with the stories of workers employed by a grocery chain, a temp agency, a construction company and other incorporated businesses. These workers’ wages were stolen by their employers who failed to pay the minimum wage or overtime, or refused to abide by work-break and safety rules.
Findings from a 2009 study cited by the study’s author, Nik Theodore of the University of Illinois at Chicago, concluded that 26 percent of low-wage workers in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles were paid less than the legal minimum wage, and 76 percent of workers who worked overtime were not paid the legally required overtime rate.
Here’s one account from the report (available here in PDF format):
For six years Modesta has worked as a cashier in a retail store in Brooklyn, New York. When she started at the job she was paid $5 an hour. She worked 60 hours, 6 days a week, but received no overtime pay. Last year she was given a “raise” and now earns $6.60 an hour—still well below the state minimum wage. Most of her co-workers are paid even less, but she says her employer has been able to continue this practice because the workers are too scared to complain.
Yet workers are fighting back, Theodore reports, through worker-led efforts based in community groups and as part of worker alliances in cities throughout the country:
Many have entered into national alliances with other like-minded organizations, such as Interfaith Worker Justice, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, National People’s Action, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and Jobs with Justice. They have forged strong working relationships with labor unions, immigrant rights coalitions, faith-based groups, community organizations, policy think tanks and, to a lesser extent, government enforcement agencies. Through these efforts, workers’ rights organizations have extended their reach; scaled up their efforts; and won significant organizing, legal and legislative victories.
The most successful of these efforts, according to David Weil, professor of economics at Boston University, who is quoted in the report, do more than recover stolen wages: They seek to bring an end to the underhanded tactics used by employers to coerce workers into exploitive employment conditions in the first place. (Weil took part yesterday in a panel discussion at the AFL-CIO headquarters on the “The Future of Work.”)
For example, the report cites the work done by the Washington State-based community organization, Casa Latina, which started its efforts against wage theft on behalf of day-laborers in the construction industry:
As workers in other industries began to report similar violations, Casa Latina extended its approach, developing strategies to prevent wage theft. This change involved expanding its day labor hiring program, which raises the wage floor and monitors employer practices (the hiring hall dispatched workers for 3,973 jobs in 2009), and founding a domestic worker training and job-placement program, in which 564 jobs were filled. Casa Latina also deepened its partnerships with labor unions, joining the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, to press more effectively for government action in defense of workers’ rights.
A particularly poignant story Theodore relates in “The Movement to End Wage Theft” is that of the Workers Defense Project in Austin, Texas, where a building contractor fled the state after three workers fell to their deaths because of unsafe practices on the construction site. The flight of the contractor left dozens of workers holding the bag for unpaid wages.
Workers Defense Project filed a lien against the property, and turned to public demonstrations as a way to highlight construction safety issues and to attempt to recover the stolen wages. Approximately $10,000 was recovered in partial unpaid wages for the surviving workers. Workers Defense Project has followed up with a $150,000 class-action lawsuit against the employer, seeking to fully recover wages for workers employed at this project site and another where the employer had also been under contract.
Day laborers marched on the offices of Daniel Sutterfield, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in New Orleans, on Thursday to protest an August raid that resulted in the deportation of four men and potentially 19 more.
On Aug. 28, Louisiana Home Elevations told 30 migrant workers owed more than $100,000 for two weeks of unpaid work to gather in the parking lot of a Kenner apartment building the next day to collect their checks, said Jacinta Gonzalez, lead organizer for the Congress of Day Laborers. When the workers arrived on Aug. 29, instead of getting paid, they were surrounded by ICE agents, Kenner police officers and Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputies, all of who had their guns drawn, Gonzalez said.
“Many of the workers were seriously injured during the raid and taken to the hospital,” she said.
Following the raid, the 30 detained men filed complaints with the Department of Labor, claiming Louisiana Home Elevations failed to pay them for work performed, as well as overtime. Some workers had been with the company for over a year without receiving overtime pay, Gonzalez said. They also claim the officers used excessive force, engaged in racial profiling and entered their homes with without warrants, according to complaints filed with the Department of Homeland Security’s Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Division
Gonzales said ICE officials deported four men, the most recent three on Wednesday, instead of using their discretion to dismiss the cases against the undocumented workers so they could further investigate the alleged civil rights violations. ICE is in the process of deporting 19 more, she said.
“The question is whether the government cares enough about ICE violating people’s rights to make sure these investigations happen thoroughly. Or do they want it to be a rogue agency that can do whatever it wishes?” she said.
Even more frustrating to Gonzalez is that ICE conducted the raid and is moving forward with deportation proceedings against men with no criminal histories despite a July directive from the Obama administration that it would focus its resources on deporting illegal immigrants with violent criminal histories.
“For them to engage in a raid that violates peoples civil rights and doesn’t protect their labor rights is just outrageous and goes against everything the Obama administration claims they’re trying to do,” Gonzalez said.
by: Amy Dean, Truthout, Thursday 20 October 2011 | Source: Truth-out.org
The last five years have been grim and isolating ones for immigrants and working people, right? Overall, this may be the case, but if you talk with organizers at Fuerza Laboral, an independent workers’ center in Rhode Island founded in 2006, you might get a different impression.
Despite difficult times, the group has taken on some bold and determined organizing. And they have some important victories to show for their efforts.
“Fuerza’s roots are really and truly the essence of what the labor movement is: workers organizing themselves and getting together with their communities to identify some real injustices that are systemic throughout the country,” says Josie Shagwert, the group’s executive director. “They got together to say, ‘How can we put a stop to this? Because the system is failing us.’”
Not long ago, workers’ centers were seen as service providers, staff-driven organizations where individuals could go to have caseworkers help with their problems. That has changed over the past decade, and the Rhode Island group is part of the transformation. “Fuerza Laboral builds worker power,” the organization’s web site explains. “[We] organize to end exploitation in the workplace. We train workers in their rights, develop new community leaders, and take direct action against injustice to achieve real victories.”
This work sounds a lot like what unions do. And, yet, Fuerza Laboral is not formally affiliated with the labor movement. Instead, it is an affiliate of National People’s Action (NPA), and shares with other NPA members an organizing model rooted in communities. Fuerza Laboral’s campaigns show two things: why organizing among workers remains essential, and how the labor movement still has work to do in bridging the gap between its traditional practices and new groups doing cutting-edge organizing, especially among immigrants and low-wage workers.
What Good Are Laws Without the Power to Enforce Them?
When Fuerza Laboral first started organizing, it focused on the abuses of temp agencies in Rhode Island, “employers who were underpaying, not paying, taking illegal deductions,” Shagwert says. Having first coalesced around this industry, the group soon moved to take on other businesses with unjust labor practices - notably a local manufacturer called Colibri. On a cold morning in January 2009, some 280 workers showed up for work at the Colibri jewelry factory, a nonunion shop in East Providence. They found a handwritten sign taped to the factory door reading, “Plant Is Closed. Go Home.”
“Shock turned to anger pretty quickly,” says Shagwert, “with people asking, What kind of treatment is this? People had worked there for 5, 15, 20 years.” One of the workers called a local Spanish-speaking radio station and complained on the air about the closing. The radio host suggested that he get in touch with Fuerza Laboral.
“For the first meeting they had 12 people,” Shagwert says. “By the time they got together for a second meeting there were 60 people in the living room of one of the workers, crowded in to talk about what to do and what an organizing campaign would look like.”
The group discovered that Colibri’s closing violated the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN), which mandates that any business with 100 or more employees must give 60-days notice before closing. (The WARN Act was in the news during the December 2008 occupation of the Republic Windows factory by the Chicago company’s laid-off workers, which Kari Lydersen chronicles in her book “Revolt on Goose Island.”) The law affords an important protection for employees. Unfortunately, there is no federal agency to enforce it. The Colibri workers decided that they would take it upon themselves to make the company obey the law.
“The vast majority of those workers had never organized before,” Shagwert says. Yet, in the course of the campaign, they pulled together a 250-person rally at the Colibri site and also began engaging in direct action. “The workers practiced civil disobedience at the auctions [of company assets],” says Shagwert, “which resulted in 13 people getting arrested.”
During the action, one observer told the local NBC affiliate, “I’d like to see them get justice … This is another AIG deal. The rich get richer, and the workers get the shaft.”
The activists subsequently brought 100 people to the headquarters of the private equity firm in New York that had purchased the company, and workers held a sit-in in the firm’s lobby. “As a result of all those actions,” Shagwert explains, “a prominent labor lawyer in Rhode Island, Marc Gursky, felt inspired by this grassroots surge of energy. He stepped forward and said, ‘I know that to enforce the WARN Act you are going to need a lawyer.’”
For two years, Fuerza Laboral pursued the case in court, and it ultimately reached a settlement. The precise terms of the agreement have not yet been made public. Nevertheless, Shagwert notes, “I will say that the workers felt really happy that after two years they were vindicated.”
“Unity” and Unions
Fuerza Laboral’s efforts show why, even with only 7 percent of workers in the private sector of the American economy covered by traditional unions, there is no substitute for organizing among working people. Even with pro-employee laws on the books, there is little hope of justice without a grassroots demand. Prior to the labor laws enshrined in the New Deal, mutual aid among workers was the very essence of union life. With collective bargaining in decline, the revival of this type of action may be important for labor’s future as well.
Asked what Fuerza Laboral takes from the organizing model of National People’s Action, the national coalition of which it is a member, Shagwert says, “Networking and constantly building leadership. It’s a real belief that everyone who belongs to your organization, or wants to belong, has the potential to take leadership.”
In addition to developing leadership through their campaigns, Fuerza Laboral has also actively pursued a program of political education. “The essence of Fuerza Laboral is having the passion to develop leaders who will confront social injustice,” says Heiny Maldonado, a community organizer at the group. “We have a year-round calendar of trainings for our members and leaders.”
Shagwert adds: “Since 2006, we have put at least 3,000 workers through a really aggressive popular education model within which our members and leaders get trained to teach basic workers rights. We also hold democracy schools: a multi-week school that teaches about organizing, the history of the labor movement, and the history of immigration. Many of our leaders have come through those courses. They take a course, get fired up, and then we look for ways to plug them into the regular organizing we do. That feels like a huge victory.”
If there’s going to be a progressive revival in this country, having a broadly inclusive approach to worker education and developing community leadership will be just as important to traditional unions as they are to workers’ centers. Currently, the labor movement is engaged in efforts to reach out beyond its established membership in shops covered by collectively bargained contracts. From the AFL-CIO’s Working America program to Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) Fight for a Fair Economy, labor organizations are seeking to expand their reach into working-class communities at large, recognizing that if they are perceived as a narrow special interest that benefits only a few workers, the movement will be destined to permanent decline.
Operations such as Fuerza Laboral represent another strain of organizing among workers that is taking place outside of traditional labor structures. A decade ago, the relationships between emerging workers’ centers in different parts of the country and traditional labor unions tended to be mistrustful - if not outright hostile, as Janice Fine discussed in her book “Worker Centers: Organizing Communities at the Edge of the Dream.” Few ties existed in most cities. Since then, both sides have made inroads into this challenge and have strengthened their relationships with one another. In the past five years, the AFL-CIO has formed partnerships with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) and with Interfaith Worker Justice.
Yet, gaps in organizational cultures and strategies still remain. The relationships between traditional unions and workers’ centers are continually being redefined, and the interaction of the groups represents a vital ongoing conversation.
As for Fuerza Laboral, Shagwert says: “Our board president has started calling us Unity Union. Which is what we are doing: Representing people in terms of grievances, doing a lot of the things a union would do for its members. But we’re not a union. We don’t identify with workers based on where they are working, we identify with them based on the abuses they are experiencing.”
While she cites alliances with unions such as SEIU and labor groups like Jobs with Justice as crucial to Fuerza’s work, she views her organization differently: “It’s the way I compare working on human rights to working on the rights of one small minority,” she says. “It doesn’t feel right to throw our hat in the ring and fight for one particular group of people. We are fighting for all of us because we are fighting for the most vulnerable.”
She adds, “I want to find a way to say this that isn’t critical of unions. Without unions what would our country be? But I see Fuerza as able to be a little more flexible than a union can be because we don’t represent one particular group of workers.”
Fuerza Laboral at once embodies an impulse toward mutual aid that has deep roots in the history of workers’ struggles and represents a new breed of organization that is expanding in areas where traditional union structures have not been able to reach. For a labor movement that desperately needs to make clear its relevance for all Americans, the task of deepening partnerships with such community allies could not be more urgent.
Amy Dean is co-author, with David Reynolds, of “A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape the American Labor Movement” and is president and founder of ABD Ventures. She worked for nearly two decades in the labor movement and now works to develop new and innovative organizing strategies for social change organizations. You can follow Amy on Twitter at @amybdean, or she can be reached via www.amybdean.com.
Plans progress for opening of worker center.
By Bonnie Hobbs, Saturday, October 15, 201 | Source: Centre View (ConnectionNewspapers.com)
When the Centreville Labor Resource Center opens, its organizers want it to be a success, so they recently invited two, day-labor marketing specialists to give them advice.
And on Sept. 27, Sarahi Uribe and Francisco Pacheco spoke with members of the Centreville Immigration Forum (CIF), which will help with the center’s day-to-day operation, under the guidance of a full-time, professional director.
“With the economic situation so bad, it’s incredibly important to do marketing,” said Uribe in English, while Pacheco said the same thing in Spanish to the workers attending the meeting. “But it depends on each organization’s resources and the workers must be involved in the marketing strategy.”
The new center is to help Centreville’s day laborers find jobs, as well as to remove them from street corners near the library and a shopping area. The CIF has been busily raising money for it and interviewing potential staff members and hopes to have it operational by the end of the year.
Al Dwoskin, who owns the Centreville Square Shopping Center, proposed the idea for the center and will donate one of his storefronts for it and will pay for utilities. Funding for salaries and other items is coming from grants and private donations.
“We’re in the process of interviewing applicants for the position of center director,” said CIF President Alice Foltz. “When that position is filled, we’ll be able to set the opening date. This means that plans for opening are contingent on our finding the right person and getting that person here and on the job. We hope this will happen in the next couple months.”
Meanwhile, plans are moving forward for the center, which will be open Monday-Saturday, from 6 a.m.-noon. Prospective employers will come directly there to hire workers, instead of picking them up from the streets. That way, an organized system will be in place, jobs will be fairly distributed among all the immigrants participating and workers will be paid for their labor.
Uribe and Pacheco, both regional organizers with the National Day-Laborer Organizing Network, shared their knowledge and tips with the CIF. “We’re based in Washington, D.C., but we work with day-labor centers all over the country,” said Uribe. “And it’s exciting that you’re going to open one here.”
To successfully market their skills, she said, they must first learn about the neighborhood’s needs. “For example, are there construction sites nearby?” she asked. “What is the demand for workers? What are the jobs you see in this area?”
Pacheco then asked the workers at the meeting to tell him their skills and he made a list of the types of jobs for which they’re qualified. These jobs included: Painting, remodeling, new construction, gardening, moving, installing hardwood floors, ceramics work, plumbing, electrical work, carpentry – both fine carpentry and for construction, restaurant work, roofing, installing siding, working in stores and cleaning.
Currently, said the laborers, more construction companies hire them – especially for remodeling jobs – than do individual homeowners. One female laborer said Americans often wonder if an employee is legal, but Koreans – a growing population group in this area – don’t worry about that.
Bill Threlkeld, who ran the day-labor center in Herndon, said that, when that center opened, the employers were 60-percent businesses and contractors and 40-percent homeowners. But, he added, “After awhile, those numbers reversed.”
Noting that she and Pacheco were giving Centreville’s workers just a brief workshop on marketing, Uribe told them, “You need to do this more in depth. Survey all the workers and employers [for their respective skills and needs]. Also, check with facilities for senior citizens to see what help they could use. Then you can start to better define your marketing plan.”
Uribe advised them to send out postcards and place hangers on people’s doors listing the jobs they can do and the center’s location. “You’ll need to determine how many postcards and door-hangers you’ll put out a month and how much money you have to buy them,” she said. “Consider advertising in newspapers and on the Internet on Craig’s List, Facebook, etc.”
Threlkeld said that, ultimately, “The most-important marketing is word of mouth.” But, added Uribe, “The best marketing doesn’t mean anything, unless the work is good.” So she stressed the importance of workers making sure they stick to the jobs for which they have the most abilities and be honest about what they can and can’t do.
Pacheco said the center advertising should have a specific color and a simple logo, plus slogans stressing the capable, dependable and skillful work the laborers will do. Uribe noted that, in the District, “Some churches let the workers come in and tell the congregation about the work they do.”
Threlkeld said the Herndon center had a community work day during which center workers wore shirts with the center’s logo and showed that they were giving back to the community. And Pacheco said it’s also important that the worker center be “open to all cultures and races and to women, as well as men.”
The next meeting of the CIF is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 25, at 7:30 p.m., at the Centreville Regional Library.