Amongst all the background noise of proposed national immigration reform, there are stories that demonstrate the power of collaboration, community organizing, and the “roll up your shirt sleeves” kind of hard work that our elected officials are unwilling to do.
On Saturday afternoon around 50 immigrant workers and community supporters gathered to celebrate the reopening of the Bay Parkway Community Job Center. The Center, along the water’s edge in southern Brooklyn, was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy. Strong winds moved it over 100 feet from its foundation and left the center structurally damaged.
As soon as the hurricane winds faded, Bay Parkway workers, both men and women, formed volunteer brigades and were on their way to help the residents of Coney Island and Far Rockaway to assess damage and start cleaning up their homes. It took nearly four months to replace the former hiring hall, but with community and foundation support, the Workers Justice Project, the organization that manages the center, and workers had it back up and running.
The majority of undocumented people in the United States are working in the agriculture, construction, cleaning, and service industries, and they are among the most vulnerable to wage theft, food insecurity, and poor health and safety conditions. Hiring sites like the Bay Parkway Community Job Center go a long way to improve these conditions. Workers are significantly less likely to be hurt or die on the job; they can count on fair wages, health and safety trainings, and job security.
The reopening of the center brought together supporters from all across New York City. Gustavo was a founding member who used to come to the center to find work. Now he is a contractor and only hires workers from the center where he got his start. The Laborers International Union of North America Local 10 was there to talk about their partnership with workers’ centers that allow skilled workers to join the union. Two local council members, Dominic Recchia and Vincent Gentile, spoke about their commitment to helping the center set up ESL classes.
It is critical that we keep these workers and their stories in mind during the debate on immigration reform. The Bay Parkway Community Job Center is just one example of communities banding together, working with their neighbors, and organizing for real and just solutions that support working families and the local economy. Like Bay Parkway, local communities across the country are doing what the Obama administration and Congress cannot seem to figure out: supporting immigrant workers as they support the American economy.