By Samantha Eng (Posted in Long Island News Report)
January 24, 2011

Through several important initiatives including training programs for immigrants, language education and workers’ rights courses, The Workplace Project works to end the exploitation of Latino immigrant workers.

Founded in 1992 in Hempstead, Long Island, the Workplace Project fights for socioeconomic justice and has strengthened workers rights for Latino immigrants by promoting their full political and economic participation within their communities.

Latino immigrants face many obstacles on Long Island. Aside from the exploitation many of them face on the job, there is also a perception that these workers are responsible for displacing natural citizens from employment.

“This wrong idea that immigrant workers are here to keep the jobs that other people deserve,” said Omar Angel Perez, Executive Director of The Workplace Project, in addressing his goal to fight this misconception.

Training and Outreach

Worker training includes, lessons on taxes and bank accounts, immigration law, discrimination, housing rights, and specialized on the job training.

“Through the Women’s Cooperatives Program, we do outreach to woman who clean households, and we invite them to come, and they get training to do on the job,” said Perez.

Other works include the day laborer program, where workers are educated on how to negotiate a salary, a service contract, and what financial records to keep.

The Workplace Project encourages day laborers and domestic help to join with community members and other immigrants to ensure they are not abused or discriminated against while employed.

“They don’t have the right training to do the job or they don’t get special machines,” said Perez. “We face a lot of problems like injuries and accidents,” he said.

The Workplace Project recruits members by going out into local churches and schools, as well as working with Spanish-speaking media.

“The women’s cooperative member go out and talk to the women on the street, talk to the women outside their workplaces,” said Perez. But they successfully target males as well. “With day laborers, we go directly to the corner and give them flyers, with their permission, about their position and what to do when they have any problem,” he said.

Omar has more to say in the following interview:

Click here to view the embedded video.Legislative Action

The efforts of the Workplace Project have resulted in both local and state legislation to protect all workers, not just immigrants. Members of UNITY, a domestic housecleaning cooperative became strong supporters of legislation and worked to get a law passed in Nassau County. This legislation requires that employment agencies give domestic workers contract forms and notices of their rights, like facts about the minimum wage, overtime regulations and Social Security.

Not satisfied with their local recognition, The Workplace Project pressed on for a statewide law. On August 31, 2010 Governor David Paterson signed the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights
This law will provide the same rights to domestic workers as are provided to other workers in New York State. The bill became law on November 29, 2010.

“The next step is to be sure that these laws are going to be implemented,” said Perez. The group is on a six year campaign seeking enforcement of this law and to ensure that the law also covers other groups, such as day laborers and low- wage workers.

“We’re not just talking about immigrant workers,” Perez said. “We’re talking about protection for all workers of the state.”

Their message to lawmakers is simple: the repression of day laborers and other domestic assistants seeking employment is counterproductive. They cite a Hofstra University Study, conducted in conjunction with Long Island Day Laborers, indicating an increase in human rights violations.

“If we can get more protection for low-wage workers, it will help increase wages for all the workers,” said Perez.

His group is also trying to ensure that those who employ immigrants will follow the new laws.

“We have been in touch with some employers who are good employers and they follow the rules, they follow the law, and they know that workers, immigrants or not, deserve good wages.”

Looking Ahead

Perez knows The Workplace Project will be a vital link between the economy and those who perform many of its necessary services.

“The immigrant community contributes a lot to the Long Island economy, and without the immigrant community and this labor force, the economy on Long Island could fall,” said Perez.

Empowering and protecting immigrant worker rights remains an ongoing goal for Perez, but so too is fighting the perception that immigrants somehow threaten the Long Island livelihood.

“We want Long Islanders to understand that the immigrant community is part of the larger community of Long Island, he said. ”

Reporter: Phil Hecken

Additional Reporting: Christal Roberts

Copy Editor: Amanda Thurshwell

Video: Bob Doda

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