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Sandy Poses Special Problems for Immigrant Day Laborers Aiding Recovery Effort

“We’re here to give you an introduction of the rights you have with your bosses and the rights your bosses have with you,” began workplace safety trainer Jonas Mendoza, speaking in Spanish. “New Labor fights for your rights so you have a safe place to work and good conditions. We’re an organization of normal people like you, and we’re doing things that we can’t do on our own.”

Over the next half hour, Mendoza and his colleagues Norland Trejo and Lou Kimmel explained the process for filing anonymous complaints. They reminded everyone that the labor laws protect them, regardless of their immigration status. And they even gave a true or false quiz to test workers’ knowledge of the issue. Such efforts are becoming commonplace throughout the region, with hundreds of thousands of dollars of grant money from OSHA and the Robin Hood Foundation going to fund similar programs in other Sandy-affected areas. It’s a positive sign, say immigrant advocacy organizations, but more needs to be done.

The CUNY report calls for more and better training, not just after a disaster hits, but ahead of time and on an ongoing basis so that workers would be better prepared for whatever might come their way. In addition, it recommends that state and federal agencies provide funding to worker centers in advance of a disaster to help them prepare, equip, and train workers for emergency response.

The authors also call for a temporary suspension of immigration enforcement operations during disaster recovery periods to prevent the fear of deportation among those engaging in the cleanup and rebuilding efforts. Overall, day laborers need to be included on the front-end of any disaster recovery strategy, they say, and more attention needs to be paid to these workers whose contributions often remain invisible and unrecognized.

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