For Immediate Release // Please Excuse Cross Posting
Monday, October 16, 2023
Contact: Erik Villalobos, email@example.com
Westchester, New York – On Tuesday, October 12th, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) convened a roundtable discussion on workplace health and safety with Acting US Department of Labor Secretary Julie Su, at the United Community Center of Westchester in New Rochelle. The roundtable centered on the years of work by tri-state area day laborer centers to establish a strong network of worker health & safety trainers who have the experience and skills to provide participatory, effective training for Spanish-speaking and immigrant workers.
“Your work and the work of the groups represented here are so critical to the well-being of working people here in your community, and across the country. And we cannot do our work without the work that you all do,” said Acting DOL Secretary Su to the group of worker leaders and advocates from the tri-state area, which includes New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
Through a multi-year collaborative effort between US DOL, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), and NDLON-member day laborer centers, more than 15,000 workers in the tri-state area have successfully completed Health & Safety training on construction safety, general industry disaster preparation and response, and infection diseases including COVID preparedness, among other topics.
“Everyone deserves to be safe and healthy in their workplace,” explained Debora Gonzalez, NDLON’s Senior National Coordinator for Health & Safety. “Today, because of years of work by tri-state area day laborer centers, we have established a network of worker trainers in this area that is a model for advancing health and safety in workplaces nationwide. We need this infrastructure urgently in so many regions of the country if we are to confront and address the many unsafe work conditions that workers face every day.”
“We began our program not only for construction workers, but for all workers in general, because let’s be very clear, if anyone at a workplace is unaware of their rights and how to prevent an accident, that can impact everyone at the workplace,” explained Lilliam Juarez of the Workplace Project that established its Health and Safety Program in 2001.
“A workplace is neither safe nor healthy if immigrant workers are excluded from workplace protections, and that must be true for workers that have been here 20 years or 20 days,” added Juarez.
Acting Secretary Su spoke of the importance of ensuring access to training and protections for workers in languages other than English, and for immigrant workers who face specific threats of retaliation.
“I want to talk about the way that immigration status gets weaponized against workers. This is something that I have seen for decades in my career of fighting alongside workers. It is also completely unacceptable and it is illegal,” explained Secretary Su. “And so we do have to do more to protect workers from immigration based retaliation, and also use our voices to be clear that this is an intolerable practice.”
In the past year, both the US Labor Department and Department of Homeland Security have provided guidance for the use of deferred action to advance labor rights enforcement. The policy has been a top priority for NDLON since day one of the Biden presidency. Yet, the use of immigration enforcement to undermine workplace rights is rampant.
Among the worker leaders at the Roundtable was Juan David, a member of ULA Connecticut, who recently faced ICE detention as a result of employer retaliation. His story underscored the pressing need to protect workers who speak out against unsafe working conditions and labor rights violations.
“I worked in Buffalo, New York, remodeling hotels under an employer who treated us poorly and he refused to pay his own workers the wages he owed to us. We resigned and began to demand our stolen wages. He responded by calling ICE, which led to my month-long detention. Only thanks to the support of NDLON, was I released from ICE detention just 4 days ago,” explained Juan David.
Several of the worker leaders ended their roundtable remarks by thanking the Secretary and calling on her to continue to be a voice for excluded workers nationwide.
“We, as workers, must know that we have protections in our favor, that we have the support from this country to defend us against these employers who only damage the labor of honest and dignified people who seek to earn a living for our families,” explained Edgar Bezerra, a worker and also member of ULA Connecticut. Bezerra was fired by his employer after coming forward with medical proof of a workplace accident.
“In the name of working people, we ask that you be a voice on our behalf for our communities across the country, and to encourage President Biden,” added Bezerra. “We need him to make it known in every corner of this country, that all workers know that they have the power to defend themselves.”
The organizations present at the Roundtable included the United Community Center of Westchester, Workplace Project- Long Island, Unidad Latina en Accion New Jersey, Unidad Latina en Accion Connecticut, Wind of the Spirit, Community Resource Center, Don Bosco Workers, New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), Workers Justice Project (WJP), and Catholic Charities – Obreros Unidos de Yonkers.