By Emily Drooby
“We need a job,” said Betzaida as she explained how a protest left her and her co-workers without jobs during a global pandemic.
Through a translator, she said, “We were fired together in March, and we haven’t been able to return to work since then.”
Betzaida and her former co-workers were fired from the Brooklyn-based company Art to Frames. They say it all started when their request for personal protective gear was denied.
“We protested because since the pandemic started in March, some factories were closing down. They were not giving us masks and that was what we asked for. But they didn’t give us anything, so we started protesting and got out of the factory,” explained Betzaida.
Betzaida claims they were fired after taking to the streets in protest.
The incident affected an estimated 20 workers. Losing their income right at the beginning of the global pandemic, made it almost impossible to pay their bills.
“I feel bad because some people really need the job and they fired us,” Betzaida explained. “And so far, they have not called us back to say if they need us. It all happened out of the blue, so suddenly.”
Like her, many have yet to find a new job.
They turned to Catholic Migration Services for help. The Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens affiliate provides free legal assistance.
“This is why we are around, to help the most vulnerable workers like these employees,” explained Magdalena Barbosa. She is the managing attorney for the Immigrant Workers’ Rights Program at Catholic Migration Services.
Due to the way current New York State labor laws are written, the workers were not protected. That meant Catholic Migration Services had to take the fight national.
They filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board. In it, they claimed the company retaliated against the group after they banded together to improve working conditions — a violation of the National Labor Relations Act.
“To hear of workers being treated this way for requesting the very basic from their employer, masks, to protect themselves while they continue working just to be treated that way, and to be fired for that, just was just so terrible,” Magdalena explained.
Currents News has reached out to Art to Frames multiple times for comment, but has yet to receive a response.
Charges were just recently filed by Catholic Migration Services, and the former employees are already in touch with the National Labor Relations Board. They’re hoping that the charges will result in money that they lost out on after being fired, or even just getting their jobs back.