Workers Laid Off for Joining ‘Day without Immigrants’ Announce Lawsuit

Laid-off workers and the lawyers handling the lawsuit at a press conference in Brentwood, Long Island. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

[Below are excerpts from a story by El Diario’s David Ramirez]

On Tuesday April 18, at least 10 workers who were fired for participating in the “Day Without Immigrants” on Feb. 16 announced that they will take legal action against their employer, a Long Island company.

Juan Barahona and Erik Ríos, residents of Nassau County, and Melbi Morales, from Suffolk County, who were fired by International Warehouse Group, spoke at a press conference held at the headquarters of Make the Road New York (MRNY) alongside attorneys from the Shulman Kessler LLP law firm, located in Brentwood, Suffolk County. They announced that they will file a class action against the company.

“At International Warehouse, they frequently demand a lot from Latino workers. We work long hours, and they never treat us with respect. That is why I wanted to show my solidarity with other immigrants and to protest these conditions we endure every day at work,” said Barahona.

Barahona added that he joined the “Day Without Immigrants” to “pressure [the employers] and to show together that the work we immigrants do is important.”

“The day before the demonstration, some of the workers notified International Warehouse Group that we would be participating to defend our rights as immigrant workers,” said Ríos, “and they threatened to fire us if we went. And so they did.”

Morales stated that “being an immigrant does not make us different. As workers, we have rights.”

For her part, Elizabeth Sprotzer, an attorney with MRNY, pointed out that minimum wage workers marched across the country on the “Day Without Immigrants” to protest working conditions and the harassment perpetrated by the Trump administration against immigrant workers and their communities.

“These workers have responded to the threats posed on their and their families’ well-being by committing to defend their rights. We want to make sure that immigrant workers will not be pushed into the shadows, that they will feel safe defending their rights and that they will not suffer retaliation for doing so,” said Sprotzer.

The legal action taken by the workers was filed at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). It claims that the company violated their right to participate in concerted activities protected by labor law.

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A “Day without Immigrants” without Risk of Being Fired

Bay Parkway Community Job Center (Photo by Zaira Cortes via Diario de México)

[Meanwhile, Diario de México reported on what immigrant workers can do to protect themselves in the next strike scheduled for May 1. Below are excerpts from a story by Zaira Cortés]

In preparation for the second “Day Without Immigrants” national strike, the Worker’s Justice Project (WJP) launched an information campaign to educate workers about their rights and the legal resources available to them as they join the demonstration, and the ways in which they can defend themselves from an unjustified layoff or reprisals at their workplace.

WJP Executive Director Ligia Guallpa said that the organization received reports from undocumented workers who were fired or penalized for taking part in the first national strike held across the country on Feb. 16.

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Guallpa emphasized the fact that workers may indeed participate in the national strike because a number of legal resources and rights allow employees to organize. However, their actions must be connected with their own workplace conditions in order to ensure that the NLRB can protect them.

“Participating in a strike is a right that workers have that is defended by section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (…) Workers who have planned to join the May 1 national strike need to make sure that, to formulate an action linked to their workplace, it is crucial to learn about workers’ rights and NLRB-protected guarantees before making any decisions,” said the day laborer advocate and organizer for the Bay Parkway Community Job Center.

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Guallpa added that the first step in preparing for the strike is to call on other workers to participate.

“It is important for a worker not to take action alone. There is strength in numbers, particularly in this type of mobilization. It is recommended to hold a meeting to explain to the staff why it is important to participate in the strike as part of a plan to ask for improvements in the workplace. This plan must be based on the problems faced by the employees, such as wage theft and safety regulation violations, among others,” she said. “It is vital to clarify that there are risks and consequences to participating in a strike, but also protected rights that will result in penalties for the employer if violated.”

The next step, said Guallpa, is to define how the national strike relates to the employees’ workplace.

“Workers need to state a purpose: What is the specific change they are demanding at their workplace? It could be asking for hard hats and protective equipment, for example, or to get the rest and lunchtime required by law, or a raise. Those are concrete objectives,” said the activist.

The third step is documenting the situation before communicating the petition to the employer and carrying out the action.

“Job centers like ours can help in this process. Our lawyers are ready to support the actions of the employees at their worksites prior to doing anything. They can provide legal advice that can reduce the risks and the penalties imposed by employers,” said Guallpa. “Documenting includes taking pictures and video of the working conditions that need improvement and of the meetings held to make decisions (…) Even social media can help in documenting and making the information public (…) When the employee is notified, it is recommended that they do it in writing or, if verbally, that the conversation is recorded.”

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The advocate encouraged workers to document possible threats, as striking is legal.

“Workers need to tell their employer that requesting improvements to their workplace is a right protected by federal law and that threatening to fire or actually laying off workers for this reason is illegal and may carry penalties,” said Guallpa.

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