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Dear Friend,

On Tuesday, September 6th, dozens of NMASS members testified before the New York City Council to voice their support for a bill to bring an end to the 24-hour workday for home attendants.

Luz Estrella, organizer and home care attendant, described what it’s like:

I couldn’t sleep when I worked 24 hours – maybe only 2 hours – because I had to give them medicine, or cook at midnight for the patient, or because I had to watch my patient all night because she would try to run away. I have an abdominal hernia due to the effort of moving my patient. I have high blood pressure from stress, and I can’t sleep.

Alvaro Ramirez, organizer, Board member and home attendant described how he fought back:

I have worked more than 20 years as a home attendant, always with SEIU 1199 agencies. I worked 15 years of 24-hour shifts, 4 and 5 days a week. One gets sick. I told my agency that I didn’t want to work anymore 24-hour shifts. The agency told me to resign. Many of my co-workers feel pressured to agree to 24 hours to save their union health insurance. I organized with my fellow First Chinese Presbyterian home attendants to reclaim our years of stolen pay.

Rafaela Urena, organizer and current home attendant, was blunt:

There is no kind of rest. I’m not working 24-hour shifts anymore. They wanted me but I said no. It’s such hard work. Patients are in danger.

The actions and testimony of Luz, Alvaro and Rafaela exemplify the work that NMASS, the National Mobilization Against SweatShops, has been doing for the past 26 years. These home attendants and organizers have inspired many youth and other workers to join them in demanding that the government stop the racist violence of the 24-hour workday that puts the lives of workers AND patients in danger.

Now more than ever, people see the need to come together regardless of our race, immigration status, or type of work to fight the exploitation we face at the hands of the developers, sweatshop bosses, and corporate interests—aided by our government. We organize together in our workplaces and our neighborhoods to end the systemic racism and exploitation that gives rise to wage theft, 24-hour workdays, environmental racism and displacement.

We are asking for your support. Here are some snapshots of our current campaigns:

Anti-Displacement Campaign: To stop the government’s collusion with developers and landlords to enrich themselves and displace us, our services, and our jobs, we are:

◆ Organizing with the community to challenge the city’s approval of four high-rise luxury towers on the Lower East Side & Chinatown waterfront in violation of people’s environmental rights.

◆ Protesting the eviction of Chinatown’s largest restaurant, Jing Fong restaurant by luxury developer, banker, and MOCA co-chair Jonathan Chu and calling for the return of the $35 million the museum received from the City to not oppose the City’s plan to construct a mega-jail in Chinatown.

◆ Calling for lower rents at Knickerbocker Village (KV) where after receiving millions in government aid to make repairs, the owner claims repairs are only possible if it sells KV to luxury developer L+M. The N.Y. State Division of Housing and Community Renewal is helping L+M to broker this illegal sale of KV that would displace residents, but KV residents halted the sale!

◆ Working with the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side to demand protection from the rampant real estate speculation and displacement in the community by passing the Chinatown Working Group (CWG) Rezoning Plan.

Home Attendant Campaign: Home care workers and others demand the end to the 24-hour workday.

◆ Besides suffering irreversible damage to their health and family life from working years of 24-hour shifts, home care workers are also cheated of 11 hours of pay each shift. We have helped many home attendants file lawsuits and complaints at the NYS Labor Department. Some from non-union agencies have won settlements. Those from SEIU 1199 agencies, however, are told that their wage claims have been resolved with an arbitration award, averaging an insulting $250 per worker.

◆ On August 31st, 300 home care workers protested for three days at 1199, demanding answers from the union about the award and about ending the 24-hour shift. The following week over 100 home care workers testified at a public hearing to demand that the City Council pass bill, Intro 175, to split 24-hour care into two shifts of 12; and to put a cap of 50 hours per week, to protect the health and well-being of home care workers AND the people in their care.

◆ On October 12th, 200 home care workers rallied at the Department of Labor to demand that gubernatorial candidates Kathy Hochul and Lee Zeldin pledge to end the 24-hour workday, and enforce laws that would split the shifts and recover workers’ stolen wages.

Wage Theft Organizing: Wage theft became even more rampant during the pandemic, lending even more urgency to workers’ demand that the labor law be enforced (Pass SWEAT now!). State-sanctioned wage theft in home care–According to 1199, $6 billion is owed to unionized home care workers in wage theft. Billions more are stolen from non-union agencies and those with other unions.

◆ Wage theft widespread for service and construction workers – “During the pandemic, I was busboy, food preparer, did deliveries, and broke down cartons. I worked 52 hours a week, six days a week, for $50 per day. I’ve done delivery for three restaurants in the last 19 years and all three have stolen my wages. All my friends, coworkers, and family have had the same experience. We need to organize to stop this wage theft”

-Octaviano Vazquez, who’s bringing together restaurant and other workers

We hope you will support our work with a donation by clicking HERE. Your gift will contribute to working people’s ability to come together so we can build a better world for our community and for future generations.

Wishing you the best in the upcoming holiday season, and in 2023.

Louise Velez

NMASS Board member

News Coverage of the Press Conference on Friday Announcing a New Lawsuit to Stop Life-Threatening Two Bridges Towers

Read the full press release after the speeches of NMASS Board member Louise Velez below and longtime LES resident Barbara Kempe below.

Links to the news articles:

https://www.amny.com/new-york/manhattan/lower-east-side-chinatown-sue-tower-developments/

https://www.thecity.nyc/2022/10/21/23416765/les-chinatown-two-bridges-environmental-impact-covid-clean-air


My name is Louise Velez. I’ve lived in the Lower East Side all my life. 77 years! I’ve been a resident of Jacob Riis house for 38.

I’m here today to stand with my neighbors in Two Bridges. This is the same fight! A fight for our community and for our lives because we are under attack. They are trying to kill us if they can’t displace us quickly enough.

The city does not care about our health and safety. Just recently in Jacob Riis there was an arsenic scare which NYCHA has since denied. But NYCHA can’t cover up the years of disrepair, the rodent problems, and the toxic conditions we face. My apartment has leaks when it rains and many of neighbors have mold and leaks as well. When we turn on our sinks the water has no pressure and it’s undrinkable.

We lost one of our only green spaces, the East River Park, and we’re constantly breathing up car exhaust from the FDR and emissions from the Con Ed plant. My granddaughter and I suffer from asthma.

It’s no wonder Jacob Riis has the highest lung cancer rates of any NYCHA. Now they want to build four mega towers on the East River waterfront that will cause more environmental problems and destroy people’s homes. This all happening because the Lower East Side and Chinatown were left without zoning protections. Avenue D where I live was also excluded from the East Village rezoning plan.
It’s not just Mississippi the environmental racism is right here in this very community.

I call on Mayor Adams to stop this racist attack on our communities. I call on him to stop selling our communities to luxury developers and to end the homeless crisis, building environmentally sustainable 100% low-income housing and protect our communities. I call on Adams to pass the Chinatown Working Group plan now! Thank you!

Good morning. My name is Barbara Kempe. I am a plaintiff in the lawsuit to stop these
towers and a founding member of the group Two Bridges Against Displacement. I have
been a Two Bridges resident for 22 years, the past 10 years as a single, widowed mom.
My family loves our diverse, vibrant and safe community, and we are grateful to have an
affordable apartment here.


When the Extell tower next door to my building was proposed, a group of our neighbors
fought it as we are fighting now. The construction went forward anyway, and, as we had
feared it would, it caused damage to our apartments and increased soot and dust in the
neighborhood. This exacerbated my asthma, which had already been made worse
following 9/11.


Now four more luxury towers have been proposed and approved without concern for the
people who already live here — most of whom are low-income people of color. While
other neighborhoods have been rezoned to keep luxury developments away, the LES
and Chinatown have been excluded.

Why are these towers being built here, when they wouldn’t be allowed in other
communities? The only answer that makes sense is that our leaders don’t think the
existing residents of our community are worth protecting. That is classist and racist. We
deserve the same protection as the families in other neighborhoods have. We deserve
to not have our health and safety targeted so that the city and luxury developers can
make more money.

That is why I organized with my neighbors to form Two Bridges Against Displacement,
that is why I joined the lawsuit as a plaintiff, and that is why I am asking anyone who
agrees with me to tell Mayor Adams to put an end to luxury development in Two
Bridges. Thank you.


PRESS RELEASE

New Lawsuit to Stop Life-Threatening Two Bridges Towers –
Community to Call on Adams to Reverse de Blasio’s Racist Displacement Agenda


TIME: Friday, October 21st, 11am
LOCATION: 265 Cherry Street

The Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side joins Council Member Christopher Marte and community members in announcing the new lawsuit to stop the luxury high-rises in Two Bridges.

These 60- to 80-story proposed towers, approved by former Mayor Bill de Blasio, will violate current neighborhood residents’ rights to clean air and water protected by the New York State Constitution. Their construction will negatively impact the health and safety of the residents, many of whom are people of color having suffered from respiratory issues caused by 9/11. By bringing in thousands of market-rate units, the megatowers will increase real estate taxes and rents in the surrounding communities, furthering the displacement of tenants and small businesses who are already struggling due to the pandemic.

The Coalition will call on Mayor Eric Adams to not continue de Blasio’s racist displacement agenda, by stopping these destructive towers and passing the full community-led Chinatown Working Group Rezoning Plan to curtail real estate speculation and protect people’s lives.

Does 1199SEIU’s Settlement for Home Care Workers Signal a Historic High or Historic Low in Today’s Labor and Feminist Movements?


From Amazon workers strikes to women’s march, social movements for workers’ and women’s rights appear to be in a new historic high today. Just on March 1, a week before International Working Women’s Day, 1199SEIU, one of the country’s largest unions fighting for racial equality, announced “historic” settlement for their home care workers, many of whom worked many years of 24-hour shifts and were cheated of their pay. Though bringing $30 million to 120,000 workers, the settlement actually lets employers get away with paying only 0.5% of the total wages ($6 billion) owed. Despite its progressive branding and positive media coverage, the union’s decision suggests that immigrant women workers should feel grateful for crumbs and actually perpetrates the sexist and racist trope of women of color willing to work inhumane 24-hour shifts. This Peter Kwong Immigrant Workers Learning Center event, joined by Professor Shirley Lung of CUNY School of Law, the Ain’t I a Woman?! Campaign, and Women Against Racist Violence, will look at this on-the-ground case study and the workers’ response, and invite all to discuss: what is the state of the labor movement and women’s rights today? At a historic high, or a historic low?

Mar 15, 2022 06:00 PM in Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Register here https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZEldeyoqzgtHNPgcjIBjUFDi9SZtrVSePNj

See below Op-Ed from Rev. Peter Cook of the New York State Council of Churches and a strong supporter of SWEAT.

https://www.timesunion.com/opinion/article/Commentary-New-York-must-try-again-on-bill-to-16437632.php

Commentary: New York must try again on bill to curb wage theft

Peter Cook

Sep. 6, 2021

On Labor Day, New Yorkers are keenly aware of the immense economic challenges faced by so many workers whose sacrifices have helped and are helping all of us to survive the pandemic.

While the state, which extended its eviction moratorium, must step up its efforts to help workers with rental assistance and distribute the $2 billion in excluded worker funds, law-breaking employers must stop undermining these efforts by stealing from their workers.

Wage theft, calculated at a billion dollars a year in New York, makes the cost of government assistance far greater by effectively subsidizing illegal business practices. Moreover, it is cruel to unfairly lecture New Yorkers for not getting a job and paying their bills while at the same time taking away their already-meager wages. As we continue to fight for better wages and press for more unionization, workers mustn’t become unwitting philanthropists for the greedy by effectively donating their lost wages.

The main problem with stemming wage theft is that many workers don’t bother to come forward because when they do, our state laws are so weak that much too often, employers are able to successfully shift their assets, close down their businesses, reopen elsewhere, and continue to operate with the same business model of cheating workers. Many workers fight valiantly to recover their wages, only to find that the system of enforcement in New York is broken.

At a press conference last spring, Sandra Mejia shared how she worked at LIOX Cleaners/Wash Supply Laundromat for two years. She and her co-workers were always paid below the minimum wage and were never paid overtime wages, even though they worked long hours. The employers stole more than $1 million in their wages over a period of years. The law allows workers to recover only up to 6 years’ back wages. Some of her co-workers had been there longer than that. They tried to form a union and sued the company to demand their stolen wages, winning over $819,000. However, the employers filed for bankruptcy, shut down the laundromat, removed the machines, and opened in another location with another name.

In 2020, Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed the Securing Wages Earned Against Theft (SWEAT) bill, which would have allowed workers, advocates and the Department of Labor and the attorney general’s office to place a lien on an employer’s business and/or assets to prevent fraudulent transfers and closures. Had the governor not vetoed the bill, Mejia and her co-workers could have prevented the employers from closing down and taking the machines to continue business elsewhere. They would have had leverage in recovering their stolen wages.

The Legislature needs to pass the SWEAT bill (S2762/A766) and send it to Gov. Kathy Hochul. Employers who abide by the law have nothing to fear with this legislation; in fact, it will help them because they are currently undercut by scofflaw employers who cheat their workers. The SWEAT bill also has numerous mechanisms to protect employers if a lien is placed on their property.

Our goal should be to stop wage theft and send a strong message that New York values workers’ labor and protects their wages. The SWEAT bill will do that. It is imperative that we urge our legislators and Hochul to do all they can to make it the law.


The Rev. Peter Cook is executive director of the New York State Council of Churches.

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