NDLON in the News

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Griego: Cultures melt into a stronger community

By Tina Griego | Denver Post Columnist | Source: DenverPost.com

The Aurora Human Rights Center occupies a small, two-story brick building on the corner of Dayton Street and 14th Avenue in what’s called Original Aurora, which is in north Aurora. It’s the kind of neighborhood where you can find a Somali market, an African hair-braiding and, in between, a great Mexican restaurantLa Cueva, if you’ve never been. It has its pawns, art galleries, a light-filled library, a small theater, apartments full of refugees, a corner claimed by day laborers.

It’s a changing neighborhood and has been for a while now. Some enjoy this. Some don’t. In either case, it holds a collection of communities that tend to be isolated from one another. It’s a kind of default isolation that’s generally a product of language or legal status or economic class.

What city and community leaders know is that isolated communities serve no one well. Not the people who live in them. Not the neighborhoods that surround them. Isolation breeds stagnation.

This, then, is the context for the Aurora Human Rights Center. The idea was sparked by the Denver Foundation’s Strengthening Neighborhoods program, with funding from the Buck Foundation, whose matriarch is Mims Buck. She has been described as a 101-year-old maverick, which makes her the kind of woman I want to meet.

The AHRC building is plain, drab, even. It doesn’t look like a bridge, but it is.

“We want to create the cross-fertilization of cultures, backgrounds, languages,” says Patrick Horvath, director of the Strengthening Neighborhood program. “It really is designed to be a melting pot.”

Five nonprofits are housed here: El Centro Humanitario, which is well- known for its work advocating the fair of day laborers; Rights for All People, which cultivates leadership among the Spanish- speaking immigrant community; the Lowry Family Center, which supports low-income families through a variety of services; and the Somali Community Center, where a small sign reads: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” Strengthening Neighborhoods also has a satellite office run by Mario Flores, a longtime community organizer.

A day laborer can come here for workplace-safety training. An immigrant can sign up for citizenship classes. A Somali refugee can learn computer skills. Struggling mothers and fathers can take parenting classes.

Like other nonprofits in the city, the AHRC seeks to do more than serve clients. It wants to grow leaders. What’s different here, the experiment, if you will, is how to take five entities sharing one building and make them more than five entities sharing one building. That’s where the bridge comes in — the cross-fertilization, as Horvath called it. It can manifest itself in the simplest way. The Somali Community Center started a sewing group for its women. Soon enough, it was inviting Mexican women to join.

“We can say we want to know people outside our own communities, but how do we that? Where does it begin?” says Lisa Duran, the executive director of Rights for All People. “It’s not a small thing, and the Aurora Human Rights Center has that built into its vision.”

The AHRC held its open house a few weeks ago. It’s taken three years to get here and not without some controversy. El Centro Humanitario wanted to move the informal day-laborer gathering site to this building. It planned to establish a hiring center much as it has in Denver. The pushback from some city and neighborhood leaders has shelved that plan.

In some ways, the AHRC is still figuring out how to articulate the vision expressed by Mims Buck, who gets the final word today. On the occasion of her 100th birthday, she was asked for her wish. “Fewer wars and more tolerance for people of all backgrounds, faiths and races,” she said, and then added: “I think peace is something we are all wishing for, but it is not enough to wish or hope; we all need to strive towards it.”

Tina Griego writes Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Reach her at 303-954-2699 or tgriego@denverpost.com.

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Wage Theft: Business Interests Try To Scuttle New Worker Laws

By Davie Jamieson | HuffingtonPost.com

Wage Theft: Business Interests Try To Scuttle New Worker Laws Late last year, advocates for low-wage workers in Florida’s Palm Beach County made what they thought was a modest request of their county commissioners: pass a wage-theft ordinance that would make it easier for working people to reclaim unpaid wages from employers who stiff them.

But that seemingly simple request is now in limbo, as Florida’s business interests have begun campaigning strongly against such ordinances. Some local clergy in Palm Beach are wondering what’s so controversial about making sure working people are paid what’s owed them.

“I had a much higher opinion of our business community,” said Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church Deacon Peter Mazzella, who’s part of a coalition of religious leaders advocating for the law. “Being paid for one’s efforts — the salary that’s agreed upon for one’s work — is something very foundational to our whole economic system.”

In recent years, religious leaders and worker advocates have managed to raise national awareness about wage theft, which occurs when employers fail to pay the minimum wage or overtime, force employees to work off the clock or decline to pay workers altogether. A number of state and local governments have since moved to toughen their laws. New York State passed this past winter its Wage Theft Prevention Act, which increased penalties against unscrupulous employers and boosted the amount of back wages a worker can recoup. And Texas enacted a law this spring that makes wage theft a criminal act, empowering local authorities to arrest business owners who don’t pay their employees.

Such laws have had their detractors, but nowhere has the opposition seemed to be so strong as in Florida.

Last year the County of Miami-Dade passed one of the most progressive wage-theft laws in the country, establishing a municipal hearing process for allegations of unpaid wages. Workers owed at least $60 from their employer now have a right to make their case to an examiner through the county’s small-business development office.

To date, the program has fielded around 1,000 complaints, totaling more than $1 million in owed wages, and has so far recovered $130,000 for workers, according to statistics provided by the county. Many of those cases never went through the hearing process and were instead resolved quickly through mediation.

“Overall, it’s going great,” said Sheri McGriff, the program’s director. “With this law in place, people feel more empowered to come forward.”

Less thrilled with the law are some of the state’s business leaders. The Florida Retail Federation, a powerful statewide trade group, lobbied against the Miami-Dade ordinance, arguing that there were already systems in place to help workers recoup owed money. The group also believes businesses could wind up in “double jeopardy” with workers, being forced to pay back wages through the county, then again through the federal department of labor — a scenario that the law’s backers say is highly unlikely.

With the law now on the books, the retail federation is suing in state court, claiming the ordinance violates the state constitution. If successful, the lawsuit could nullify the Miami-Dade law and likely scuttle any attempts in Palm Beach to move forward with a similar ordinance.

The retail federation has also pushed a state bill that would preempt local ordinances like the one in Miami-Dade. Though that attempt failed, the bill will likely be brought forth again next session.

“You [already] have laws that protect against these violations,” said Samantha Hunter Padgett, deputy general counsel for the federation, which has officials from Walmart, Macy’s, CVS, Home Depot and Disney World on its board. “If this is truly a problem, then the issue is education and access.”

The federation may fear that the Miami-Dade ordinance could metastasize to other counties, creating red tape and making employers and their books more accountable to local governments. Indeed, the ordinance served as the basis for the proposal now stalled in Palm Beach.

But Jose Javier Rodriguez, the public-interest lawyer who drafted the Miami-Dade law, said employers have nothing to worry about — so long as they’re paying their employees properly.

“The burden of proof is on the employee,” Rodriguez said. “They have to prove they were employed and that they were owed money. It’s a basic contract: ‘I worked for you; you didn’t pay me.’ ”

The retail federation’s resistance to the law seems a bit puzzling to some given that retailers haven’t exactly been dragged in great numbers before hearing examiners in Miami-Dade. In fact, according to McGriff, the greatest numbers of wage-theft cases come out of industries other than retail — specifically construction, ity, and food-services. Many of the violations tend to happen under day-labor arrangements, an uncommon occurance in retail. She says the complaints are vetted early on to make sure they’re not frivolous or fraudulent.

“A lot of it is in industries that feel they can bring in folk and not be accountable,” said McGriff. “Say, a construction company may pick up some folk that are at a ping center, promise them work, work them for the week, and then not pay them. We’ve had that.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the people who’ve found recourse through the new law are undocumented workers. Fearing deportation, such workers are easily taken advantage of, and many of them would be reluctant to step forward and file a complaint with the federal labor department. The county, however, doesn’t care what a worker’s status is, McGriff said. “Our question is whether you were paid or not.”

Although Palm Beach’s county commissioners voted unanimously last year to support the drafting of a wage-theft ordinance, no such law will be coming soon. In the wake of the retail federation’s lawsuit and pressure from business groups, the commission has tabled the issue and likely won’t deal with it at least until after the new year.

Palm Beach Commissioner Shelley Vana said that the best route for workers who are owed wages may be through legal aid societies and their pro bono lawyers. In a best-case scenario, Vana said, “we can get everyone working together without an ordinance.”

Jeanette Smith, the director of the faith-based advocacy group South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice, believes ordinances like the one on the table in Palm Beach are all the more important because Florida does not have a state labor department, which in other states is often the agency that investigates wage violations. Florida’s department was dismantled a decade ago.

The business community’s opposition, Smith said, doesn’t hold up on moral grounds.

“We all agree: Wage theft is bad; it hurts good businesses,” she said. “So what’s to know? Just pay your employees.”

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Women Day Laborers Create Connect Democratic Workplaces

Press Release – For Immediate Release
Contact: Ligia M. Guallpa, 646.479.4769

Building a Green and Grassroots Economy

Women Day Laborers Create Connect Democratic Workplaces

Brooklyn, NY – Today, July 8, women day laborers and founding members of Apple Eco-Friendly Cleaning Cooperative will be joining for first time the 2011 Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy in Baltimore, Maryland to share strategies and learn new tools for organizing and building capacity of cooperative workplaces.

Apple Eco-Friendly Cleaning is an unique project model led by women day laborers from Williamsburg and Jackson heights to help bridge the disconnect between two starkly different worlds: that of economically and culturally marginalized day laborers, and the world of New York City’s more affluent social groups with sophisticated needs for high-quality services. A primary function of this project is to both reduce the barriers and emphasize the unique strengths of day laborers, ultimately enabling them to gain a footing in new segments of the market and compete on a more level playing field.

This project has become an important and energizing strategy to address the formidable barriers that stand in the way of economic and social advancement for many women day laborers that stand in the street corner of Marcy and Division.

Every morning, approximately 20 to 40 women day laborers stand in the corner looking for work in factories, tailor s, stores, restaurants, and homes, and construction sites.They work for 2, 5, 10, 12 and even up to 14 hours straight a day. In a workplace without an air conditioner and a lunch break, these women- mostly Latino and Polish – load and unload goods from big trucks, clean and repair homes.

The need to earn couple of dollar has brought women from all over New York City to the same corner. “Many more people are coming here, but there is less work and less money,” said Yolanda who has been coming to La Parada” for more than 5 years.

Over the past five years, the number of women day laborers in the corner has grown rapidly. As result, bringing a new challenge to the organizing process in the corner. The lack of a physical space and the arrival of new women have prevented from maintaining stable rates, minimizing the competition and preventing labor and civil rights abuses.

“We all have had to become innovative at the time to organize during difficult times” said Luz Maria, a women day laborer that has become an active organizer in the corner. “The need to work and earn a dollar has become a immediate need among everyone in the corner,” she said.

Last year, Luz Maria and a group of women day laborers came together to form an unique worker owned green cleaning business, named as Apple Eco-Friendly Cleaning, as a way to create green, healthy and sustainable cleaning jobs with dignified working conditions and a living wage.

“We needed to do something and we did it,” said Yesenia, another founding members of Apple Eco-Friendly Cleaning. “I feel that we have found more opportunities as an cooperative. Our hope is to help more women from the corner to create their own work,” she said.

Today, women day laborers and founding members of Apple Eco-Friendly Cleaning will be joining for first time the 2011 Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy in Baltimore, Maryland.

Day Laborer Organizing Project:

Day Laborer Organizing Project’s mission and central value-is to empower day laborers through organizing and education, and creation economic opportunities.

Contact:

Ligia M. Guallpa
dlopnyc@mail.com

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Dante’s Slope

By David Glenn Cox | Originally posted in: OpEdNews.com

Dante’s Slope

David Glenn Cox

I have been at loose ends now for two, clinic could it be going on three years? Without a phone or an address to call my own, I have access to these things but they aren’t mine. For the last six months I have been staying like Dick Cheney, in an undisclosed location. I wonder now, if I’ve become a gentleman of the road? I’ve been placing an ad in Craigslist offering to do day labor, I’ve built fences, stained decks, built brick retaining walls. No job application, credit check or testing needed. We talk, we meet, I do the job, I get paid and I go on my way.

I no longer have a sense of normality, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. None of my employers have tried to cheat me out of my time; no one has made the type of demands on me that conventional employers have made. No one has been disappointed in my work or made any complaints about either the caliber or quality. I could not have done this when I was living in Atlanta because in Atlanta, the economy there was prostrate. My ad offering labor for $12.00 an hour would have been ignored. It is only because I am in this enclave that there is work for me.

It is in a beautiful river valley, in a historic little town where the antique and boutique homes have been meticulously restored to an amazing degree. This is due to both the character of the people and the prosperity of the little town. It is both a bedroom community and tourist destination and as I jog through its tree lined streets I feel as if I am in Disney Land, it has a feeling of the unreal. It is all too perfect, my senses still can’t accept what my eyes see as normal because it’s not normal. It is an enclave and as I traveled out to meet another respondent to my ad I was reminded that it is an enclave. I saw in a little town just a few miles down the highway, the signs of which I was all too familiar with in Atlanta.

Empty buildings, for signs and for rent signs and then something which I saw almost two years ago in Atlanta. The people are selling off their toys, in the front lawns along the side of the highway are the littered remnants of their prosperity, boats, motorcycles and expensive riding lawnmowers . Like Dante’s vision of hell it re-awoke in me and reminded me not only how unreal my little enclave was but also how this economic plague continues on unabated. Seeing all the signs which I had lived with before was like the return of a recurring nightmare. Like a cloud of locusts or a tidal wave, of that feeling of knowing what was going to come next, but unable to do anything about it other than to just duck.

So I met with my customer, a divorced woman with three small children. Her husband’s business had failed, put out by Chinese labor and they had divorced. I could see the parallels in her story to my own story. She was down sizing, she had bought a foreclosed house out in the country and wanted to sell her house in town so as to live mortgage free. She had all the accoutrements of wealth around her but then, a few years ago so did I. There was a boat and a camper, but this house? This house was going to be a project and it contained all the signs of a Hail Mary pass. Of someone trying to hold on to what they have left, for me this looked like a perfect situation because my day labor comes and goes. Two days here, one day there and recently no days anywhere and cash is growing tight.

As I was returning to the enclave, there was a man at the highway exit begging. He held a handmade sign that read, “Lost my job, two kids, can’t pay my rent, family in crisis.” There was a time when I was a different person, when I was cynical and sanguine about the well being of others. Oh, I was introspective enough in the abstract, back when my lawn had a sprinkler system and my garage held a classic sports car. This is why I say that losing normality is not necessarily a bad thing.

My cynicism for government has never ebbed but my cynicism for people in trouble has all but evaporated. I understand intrinsically the mental machinations that it takes for a man to stand on a roadside and beg for money. The inability of a man to be able to support himself and his family after years of having doing so successfully. I have wondered if I could do it? In the abstract the cynic might say, “he’s conning you man!” But that was in the old America wasn’t it? In this America, who could doubt that an honest man had lost his job? In this America, who could doubt that he lost it through no fault of his own? In this America, who could doubt that he could not find another?

In this America, ask yourself just how hard on your self esteem it becomes to beg money from strangers on a roadside. This was no wino or crack head, this was a middle aged man sliding down Dante’s slope. As I look back over my own times on Dante’s slope I began to see all of the people that I have met and spent time with and how similar all of their stories are to each other. I gave the man $2.00 as we passed and was reminded of what Woody Guthrie had once said, “I ain’t never seen a poor man that wouldn’t share what he’s got and I never seen a rich man who wasn’t afraid someone would take something from him.”

I got the job and worked for a couple of hours and will begin work in earnest at the end of the week. The woman described me as “laid back” and she is the second person to describe me that way. If you had known me a few years ago you would laugh, Dave? Laid back? I had things to do back then, I had to cut the grass or wax my car. I had to preside as the President of my home owners association or I had to go to my job where I made my employer tens of thousands of dollars but he still treated me like I was stealing a paycheck. I had a form to sign that said that I had received my new company handbook and that I understood its covenants and conditions of employment.

That was my normality back in the day, back when I had things. I still had a house, cars, tools and lawn furniture but no real care or concern for my fellow man. “Tough break” or “That’s too bad” when really, all I meant was, tough break for you and too bad for you but I’ve still got mine! Oh, I cared in the abstract but not in the specific, I cared about the poor and the unemployed in a way which cannot ever be explained. On an emotional and intellectual level I cared, but those things I owned, they held me in their grip and my fear of losing them frightened me so into an emotional paralysis. I was tense all of the time and afraid all of the time. What if I lost my job? What if I lost all of these things? What if I lost my nice big house and my big screen TV with 200 channels?

Now I have lost all of those things and I haven’t been able to find stable employment for two, going on three years despite a good work record. Millions of you already understand what I’m saying, a gap in your work history? A poor credit score is seen as much the same light as having a criminal record. Recently, a friend of mine applied for an eight dollar an hour job at a convenience store, she was disqualified from this dream job by a credit card default. This is a very kind and sweet person but here, Equifax is allowed to do the hiring. Really? How are people ever supposed to recover? The bad debts and soured loans of the banks are covered and it’s business as usual, but for the American people it’s an economic debtor’s prison.

I’ve been through the first seven circles of hell and I’m not afraid anymore. I’m no longer intimidated by wealth or status or power. I still fear the police of course, because the less money you have the more likely you are to be jailed. That man begging for money would probably get more time than a drunk driver. You can go on TV and cry for the poor children in the name of Jebus but when you try to take care of your own children then it’s, “Book em Dano.” It makes you scratch your head in wonder. The ex-President of the United States creates phony wars of aggression and kills tens of thousands of innocents and the current President cancels the investigations into the criminal wrong doing.

Despite the obvious economic effects, both political parties plan to take a butcher’s knife to this country’s badly needed social programs. The party that feared death panels now wants to cut Grandma’s Medicaid and Mr. Hope and Change says, Ok, good idea.

I have been so changed by this experience, I have gone from a liberal Democrat to a revolutionary Sot. I think there is something cancerous and deadly wrong going on here. Beggars in the streets, millions made homeless, millions more made unemployed and the only answer from government is to cut even more still. To make more beggars, to make more homeless, to destabilize families with children, to shatter them and break them apart. To destroy the honor and self esteem of the honest and hard working by forcing them to beg in the streets.

I have come to understand that this is not a plague which is just affecting you or me. It is affecting us all at different levels, we are all at different rings of Dante’s Inferno and each day some rise and some fall. We are all in this torment together, young and old, white and black and brown. Christian, Muslim, Jew or Atheist, it no longer matters on which circle of hell you dwell because hell is hell. Each day more join us in their poverty and loss and each day the scales begin to tip as more as more Americans begin to understand that government is about protecting the people and not about protecting things. That the people of this country have value and that things do not, and when that becomes the consensus, the world will change, because the people will no longer be afraid of their government.

About the Author:

Born at the pinnacle of American prosperity to parents raised during the last great depression. I was the youngest child of the youngest children born almost between the generations and that in fact clouds and obss who it is that I am really.

Given a front row seat for the generation of the 1960’s I lived in Chicago in 1960. My father was a Democratic precinct captain, my mother an election judge. His father had been a Union organizer and had been beaten and jailed for his efforts. His first time in jail was for punching a Ku Klux Klansman during a parade in the 1930’s. I never felt as if I was raised in a family of activists but seeing it print makes me think, yes. That is a part of who I am.

We find ourselves today living in a world treed by the hounds of madness, a complicit media covering contrite parties. Multilevel media, giving more access to communication yet stunting actual communication. More noise, less voice, more sound less music, more law less justice, more less life.

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New immigration center opens on West Side

Kate King, order Staff Writer | Source: StamfordAdvocate.com | Tuesday, case July 5, 2011

New immigration center opens on West Side

Jean Daniels teaches a English class on Monday June 27, 2011 at Neighbors Link Stamford, a new non-profit organization that provides a comprehensive resource center for recent immigrants in the Stamford, Connecticut area. Photo: Dru Nadler / Stamford Advocate Freelance

STAMFORD — There are three words painted in blue on the concrete walls of the newly opened immigration center in Waterside — educate, empower, employ.

It’s the mission statement of Neighbors Link Stamford, a nonprofit dedicated to providing resources for local immigrants. The program has been years in the making, and Executive Director Catalina Samper Horak said she still can’t believe it’s finally come to fruition.

“There’s so many people who feel a sense of ownership of this center,” she said one morning last week. “We made it. We finally got it.”

Horak said the nonprofit is intended to be a “point of entry” for Stamford’s immigrant population. The program is modeled after the Neighbors Link center in Mount Kisco, N.Y., which has provided adult education, tutoring, computer training and employment development to the city’s immigrant community for the past 10 years. Horak served on the Mount Kisco center’s board of directors for seven years.

Neighbors Link Stamford celebrated its grand opening June 12, after initial resistance from some who worried the program would encourage day laborers to loiter outside the Selleck Street location. Rick Allen, a member of the Waterside Coalition, a neighborhood group on the West Side, said he was at first skeptical of the new organization, but is now a full supporter.

“We had kind of started out on a negative note because no one knew what the center was about,” Allen said. “But over the last few weeks, members of the coalition have come down to visit the center and it is awesome. They need our support and we need their support, so we’re all working on this together.”

Horak said Neighbors Link Stamford will one day serve as a safe and se hiring site where workers can wait for employers while taking English and computer classes. For the moment, however, the center is focusing on an overwhelming need from the local immigrant population for English instruction.

“We are supporting every single person in the immigrant community no matter where they are on the spectrum,” Horak said. “But we’re not talking about (the day laborer) component right now because we’re focusing on the education aspect. So that’s our big emphasis right now. We’re all about integration.”

Neighbors Link provides free daily English lessons to local immigrants on a walk-in basis, Horak said. The classes are led by volunteer ESL-certified instructors. On-site babysitting is also available for parents while they participate in classes.

More than a dozen people showed up for the June 27 English class taught by Jean Daniels. The group sat at plastic folding tables in front of a large whiteboard, on which Daniels wrote the five vowels of the English alphabet.

“The idea is to give them enough English so they can go out and get a job,” Daniels said. “But they’re open to anything, so whatever you can give them, they’re very appreciative. I think it’s excellent. I think it’s a good resource for the community.”

Private tutoring is also available for more advanced students. Martha Cortes, who moved to the United States from Colombia 22 years ago, drives to Neighbors Link Stamford every day from Norwalk for English lessons. On Monday, she received grammar and pronunciation help from Sakshi Bhatnagar, a 17-year-old high school senior at the Academy of Information Technology & Engineering in Stamford.

“This program is very good,” Cortes said. “I’m coming here Monday through Friday to improve my English and practice my grammar, and in the afternoon I take computer classes.”

Cortes worked for an aerospace manufacturing company for 16 years before losing her job when the company relocated. She said she is now hoping to improve her English writing skills so she can begin a new career in the health care industry.

“That’s why I have to practice my grammar,” Cortes said. “Right now, my goal is to improve my English so I can find a job.”

Neighbors Link Stamford is run by volunteers and funded entirely through private donations from individuals, foundations and religious organizations, Horak said. The center works with other local nonprofits to ensure services are enhanced, rather than duplicated. Immigrants looking for help with mental health, mortgage or citizenship questions will be directed to the proper resources, Horak said.

Horak, the center’s only paid employee, immigrated to the United States from Colombia in 1981 and now lives in Darien.

“I can totally relate to what people are going through here, the difficulties of raising children in another culture,” Horak said.

She said the center’s location on the West Side makes it easily accessible to many members of the local immigrant population, who can walk or take a bus to the center.

“It’s that neighborhood feeling,” Horak said. “It’s totally coming true.”

Staff Writer Kate King can be reached at kate.king@scni.com or at 203-964-2263.

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