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Some General Accomplishments

  • Came together as workers to expose sweatshop conditions and exploitation as a national problem that exists right here domestically, in the United States, including coverage in the local, city, national and international media.
  • Raised consciousness about the common interest between native-born workers and immigrant workers in ending the superexploitation of undocumented workers. We have influenced the immigration debate with our call for equal rights for all workers and the abolition of the category of “undocumented worker.”
  • Through organizing, shattered the myth that immigrant workers, and especially undocumented workers cannot fight back, by uniting undocumented and documented workers to stand up for their rights in many workplaces and in a call for equal rights for all workers. This kind of organizing is resulting in higher wages and shorter hours in many in New York City’s Upper West Side neighborhood, for instance.
  • Lead by example in helping to build a new, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-trade, multi-lingual, inclusive movement for all workers – employed, working as caregivers in the home, working as students in school — to fight, not only for better conditions, but for real control over our lives, as working people. We articulate taking back control over our time as fighting for the right to the 40-hour workweek at a living wage as a human right.
  • Put in motion a model for a new labor movement that is more than an employees movement, but is for all workers, including the unemployed, people who do unpaid work in the home, and the non-union majority, to fight to fundamentally transform the system according to the interests and needs of working people as a whole.
  • Brought forward the question of caregiving as work that should be included in the right to a 40-hour workweek at a living wage for all.
  • Changed many workers’ thinking to overcome their fears and to open their minds to the possibility of, not only changing economic conditions, but fighting, long-term for systemic changes. As one member put it at our 2009 retreat, “we’re not just organizing for better conditions but for control.” For example, garment workers organizing against the manufacturer Bahari demanded more than what they were entitled to according to the law – they demanded that Bahari clothing manufacturer keep a percentage of its work here, in New York. One nail salon worker, Gloria said that before she found NMASS she didn’t think her conditions could be changed. Now she thinks, “I am an achievement. NMASS changed my thinking. I want to change the nail salon industry.” Rosa, a garment worker, added, we “help people to end the fear of speaking up, even if you are undocumented.”
  • Expanded the definition of who is a worker and who is exploited to include middle-income and even higher-income white-collar workers. These workers also lack control over their time and lives, and now have less and less control. For example, we launched a White Collar Workers Committee, ignited by the struggle of an office worker who was fired for asking for a raise and discussing with her coworkers and supervisor the long work hours and skipped meals she was forced endure. Workers at several different workplaces, including non-profits, have also come forward.
  • Put forward a new perspective on workfare and welfare reform that calls not for more handouts or cheap-labor programs, but for the recognition of the work of raising children and making a home.
  • Buiilt two independent workers’ centers, after only meeting in apartments, community spaces and even having clinics and meetings on sidewalks.
  • Created a national network of over 9,000 working people and youth.
  • Developed a multiracial organization, membership, leadership and Board of Directors composed of working people from diverse walks of life.

Accomplishments in 911 Health and other Workers’ Health Issues

  • Made workers’ health a nationally-recognized issue and combinging health issues in the workplace with health issues in our communities.
  • This included organizing lower Manhattan workers and residents and others affected by 9-11 toxic air to make 9-11 health a national issue, forcing the creation of the Bellevue 9-11 program, and speaking on workers’ health issues and workers’ compensation in Congress. The Bellevue program eventually got federal funding and was expanded to Elmhurst and another hospital. This program is the only treatment program for residents and workers affected by the toxic fallout of 9-11.
  • Drew attention in city, state, national and international arenas to the human-rights abuses suffered by injured workers forced to work long hours and then abused and dehumanized by the Workers’ Compensation system, using an international NAFTA lawsuit, an international public hearing, protests and organizing spearheaded by injured workers.
  • Gained the introduction of a bill in 2001 by State Assembly Member Catherine Nolan in the New York State Assembly that calls for ending delays at the Workers’ Compensation Board, raising the minimum rate of benefits, and prohibiting mandatory overtime work.

Service Worker Organizing

  • Created a network of service workers in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area through which hundreds of workers have organized to win millions of dollars and improvements in their working conditions.
  • For example, we ousted the notoriously abusive management of the New Silver Palace restaurant through a campaign to fight for stolen tips, wages, and the reinstatement of pro-union workers; the restaurant’s workers led pickets three times a week, even after they won their jobs back.
  • Winning in 2000 the first minimum wage increase for tipped workers in New York State when the government wanted to separate their wages from minimum wage increases and freeze it at $2.90 an hour.
  • Organized workers at delis, gorceries, nail salons, restaurants and other workplaces, winning back millions of dollars in unpaid wages, stolen tips, minimum wage and overtime violations, etc.

Garment Worker Organizing

  • Institutionalized the concept of manufacturer accountability by compelling government and other institutions to hold garment manufacturers responsible for the labor-law violations of their contractors and contributing to the passage in 1998 of a N.Y. State law to that effect.
  • Strengthened manufacturer accountability laws for garment workers in New York State.
  • Raised national awareness of the issue of manufacturer accountability through the publicity surrounding our worker-led campaigns against Kathy Lee and DKNY and through meetings with the Federal Department of Labor in Washington and in Congress.
  • For example, we forced the garment manufacturer Street Beat to pay almost $300,000 in owed wages to Brooklyn garment workers who were forced to work 137 hours a week, as well as another $85,000 to NMASS and two other organizations for damages as a result of a lawsuit that Street Beat initiated against the three groups, which in 2000 was ruled a SLAPP suit.
  • Won a precedent-setting decision that gives workers the power to enforce Labor Department agreements signed by manufacturers to take responsibility for the wage-law violations of their contractors.
  • Organized DKNY garment workers to protest, educate the public, and launch a class-action lawsuit against Donna Karan for the illegal and inhumane conditions the manufacturer has promoted in New York sweatshops.
  • Organized workers to hold garment companies accountable for sweatshop conditions in the factories, winning back millions of dollars in unpaid wages, overtime pay, stolen wages, etc., involving workers in a longer-term movement towards manufacturer and retailer accountability that is impacting other subcontracted workers, in construction and other industries.

Fighting Racist Displacement of Working People of Color

  • Fought the racist displacement of working-class people of color as part of building a workers’ movement to have say in our communities and at the city level.
  • For example in New York City’s Lower East Side we’ve fought the exclusion of workers of color from jobs on NYU’s construction sites and the displacement effect of NYU’s developments.
  • After 9-11 we demanded that the government end its aid policies that discriminated against the LES/Chinatown, which were encouraging landlords to kick out low-income people.
  • Exposing and undermining New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s racist displacement agenda against working class people of color, connecting our organizing in the Lower East Side with organizing in Chinatown and people’s struggles across the city, slowing the Mayor’s agenda, and laying groundwork to restore our communities.

Developing Working Class Culture

  • Developed a video project to document and popularize working people’s struggles. We’ve organized community screenings and air these videos on Manhattan Neihborhood Network.
  • Developed theater events, including the original play, “American Tien,” that ran for a week at the Theater of the New City, depicting the struggles of garment workers.
  • Organize poetry and spoken word events at our Brooklyn Center and in other venues.
  • Influenced musicians and worked with them to produce original songs about workers rights and involved them in performances at rallies and benefits.
  • Produced original comic books and prints to popularize workers’ struggles and demands.
  • Established a tradition of bringing workers together to break down barriers and to celebrate our accomplishments at monthly “First Friday” parties, picnics, and other kinds of events.
  • Produced our newsletter Sweatshop Nation, our website, and other publications, such as the magazine, Punching the Clock.