Workers Excluded from Multitude of Labor Laws Seek Faster, More Effective Enforcement from U.S. DOL
Town Hall Gathers More Than 100 with Aim to Clarify Rights of Workers Who Do Not Fall Under Traditional Federal Worker Protections
NEW YORK, NY (10/17/2011)(readMedia)-- On Monday, October 17th, at 6pm, workers from a variety of sectors excluded from most labor laws – domestic workers, restaurant workers, day laborers, farm workers, formerly incarcerated, and workfare workers – met with Melvina Ford of the U.S. Department of Labor Wage & Hour Division at the offices of 1199 SEIU in mid-town. George Gresham, President of 1199 SEIU welcomed everyone to the space at the start of the meeting.
High unemployment and unstable work environments have led many employers to steal wages, misclassify workers, curtail the use of safety equipment and engage in other dangerous labor violations. Without the U.S. DOL prioritizing excluded workers' status, response to violations can take months or years to investigate.
"Six months is an eternity for a worker who lives from payday to payday," said Sam Calzero, a restaurant worker and member of the Restaurant Opportunity Center of New York (ROC-NY). "In that time a worker will have their wages stolen or get hurt on the job multiple times by employers who know they have nothing to fear."
Workers asked for clarification on what rights pertain to their work categories, and how to get the Department of Labor to investigate their claims of violations in the workplace. Some of the issues highlighted include collective bargaining, on-the-job training, wage theft, race discrimination, immigration status discrimination, and safety issues.
One set of workers highlighted in the Town Hall Forum were workfare workers, welfare recipients that are made to work for their benefit checks but are not afforded the same rights as other workers.
"I work alongside public employees, but I don't get a paycheck, don't qualify for unemployment, receive no union benefits, generate no retirement income, get no sick days or vacation days," said Rosa Gonzalez, workfare worker and member of Community Voices Heard (CVH).
Clarification was also sought by guest workers, represented by El Comite de Apoyo a Los Trabajadores Agricolas (CATA) – The Farmworker Support Committee. Guest worker rights are often violated in the forms of both human trafficking and wage theft. Guest workers are routinely charged fees by their employers who withhold passports and visas. Workers spend months or years paying off that debt in virtual concentration camps with no hope of escape.
The meeting was organized by local organizations from two national networks, the Excluded Workers Congress (EWC) and National People's Action (NPA), and also had representation from the National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON), a member of the EWC. The members of the EWC are national networks of organizations that represent a base of workers that are either by law or by practice excluded from the right to organize in the United States. The members of NPA are state and local affiliates who organize for racial and economic justice across the U.S. The local organizations that organized the meeting included: CATA [representing guest workers], CVH [representing workfare workers], Damayan and Domestic Workers United (DWU) [representing domestic workers] and ROC-NY [representing restaurant workers].