City-Funded Day Laborer Center Opens in Brooklyn

Established with funding from the city, the new workers’ center inaugurated by the Worker’s Justice Project is an “oasis” in the midst of the current anti-immigrant climate and policies. (Photo by Zaira Cortés via El Diario)

Day laborers and domestic workers in Brooklyn now have a new “headquarters” to defend their rights and to organize campaigns and demonstrations for social and labor justice.

On Sunday, the Worker’s Justice Project (WJP) inaugurated a new workers’ center in Williamsburg. According to activists, it will be an “oasis” and a “safe zone” for hundreds of immigrant domestic workers and day laborers who are undocumented at a moment when an anti-immigrant climate and harassment prevail.

The new center, located at 365 Broadway and established thanks to funding from the City Council, is an extension of the old Bay Parkway [Community Job] center, which will continue to operate with additional services and staff, said WJP Executive Director Ligia Guallpa.

In 2016, the City Council allocated $500,000 to support a number of day laborer centers. For fiscal year 2017, such funds were increased with the purpose of having at least one of these centers in every borough.

Other organizations benefiting from this funding are Staten Island’s La Colmena and the New Immigrant Community Empowerment in Queens.

Currently, the WJP provides assistance to more than 400 day laborers and housekeepers, said Guallpa.

WJP Co-director Marien Casillas said that the center, located just a short distance from the area where domestic workers stand waiting to be hired, will not only serve day laborers but also workers from other industries and the immigrant community in general.

“We are offering services to restaurants and factory workers and in-home caregivers, among others. We are covering a number of sectors where protection is needed,” said Casillas.

“The new office will serve as a hiring center for housekeepers, a similar model to the one we have in Bay Parkway,” Guallpa added.

(Photo by Zaira Cortés via El Diario)

Female day laborers benefit the most

The day laborer community the organization brings together has a workers’ center in Bay Parkway that was rebuilt with public funds after it was hit by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Still, domestic workers did not have an established center until now.

To Erica González, a housekeeper and the mother of two young DACA beneficiaries, the new center is a “safe zone” where people can get organized and define strategies to defend their rights. One of its goals is to completely abolish the “cleaning on their knees” practice demanded by some employers in the sector.

“This center is a source of reliable information and support for my family, especially with the end of DACA. On Tuesday, when the program was cancelled, I was here with other mothers. We were all able to take in the news together and look to the future in relation to our struggle,” said González.

Guallpa said that part of the funding the WJP received will be used to identify new stops and to implement additional services such as extended service hours and English classes focused on labor rights advocacy, as well as OSHA classes and immigration clinics in response to the end of DACA.

“At this organization, I have learned that you can succeed even without a DACA benefit. Day laborers and housekeepers are examples of success and leadership,” said Miriam Uribe, a young organizer who just graduated from college. “It is good to be in a place where there is absolute support for the entire immigrant community.”

Both workers’ centers will operate from Tuesday to Saturday. The one in Bay Parkway will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and the Williamsburg center from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Council member Carlos Menchaca, chair of the City Council’s Committee on Immigration, said that the funding granted is part of the council’s efforts to reach out to the most vulnerable workers.

“Day laborers now have access to legal contracts, work safety classes, and protection in cases of wage theft,” said Menchaca.

Guadalupe Aguirre, a construction worker, said that the new “headquarters” will also be crucial to the struggle for dignified salaries and work safety.

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