Worker’s Justice Project Helps Day Laborers Fight for Wages During Pandemic

Tags: Currents Brooklyn, NY, Construction Workers, Crux, Diocese of Immigrants, Faith, Immigrants, Immigration, Queens, NY

Emily Drooby

Natacha’s family is struggling to put food on the table and pay their bills. Making it more difficult: the paycheck they’ve been counting, which is two months late.

“Because we haven’t been able to pay the rent, and all of this has affected us,” said Natacha, translated from Spanish.

Natacha and her daughter were at the Briarwood, Queens construction site where her husband —  an undocumented immigrant —  had been working. Due to the family’s status, Currents News is only using first names.

Natacha is demanding her husband’s salary be paid. He is currently the family breadwinner. Natacha lost her job to the pandemic.

Martin, who is also claiming wage theft, said his family is in a similar situation.

“I live off of my job,” he said in Spanish. “So, they were almost throwing me out of the house because I couldn’t pay rent.”

Fighting wage theft as an undocumented worker can be terrifying and sometimes impossible. That’s why they reached out to Worker’s Justice Project for help.

“And I give a lot of thanks to this institution because they’re supporting every single person who is here,” said Natacha.

The Brooklyn-based organization fights for immigrant workers rights. They mostly deal with day laborers and domestic workers who have little to no support, especially since many of their clients are undocumented. They address a wide range of workers’ rights, and wage theft is one of them.

The group is helping Martin, Natacha and eight others with the wage theft allegations they have raised against Madison New York Services, a company that lists demolition and concrete work among their many construction roles.

Worker’s Justice Project organized a protest outside the construction site on Queens Boulavard.

In regards to the accusations, Currents News attempted to speak with a man identified as the owner on the site but he refused to talk. Another man connected with the company also wouldn’t talk.

Currents News also left several telephone messages for the company, but have not heard back.

Glendy Tsitouras of Worker’s Justice Project says the organization has been asking for the payments, which amount to about $10,000, for over a month.

They visited the site a week ago, and were told to come back. Before the protest, they attempted to contact the employer one more time, but he hung up.

Glendy says they’ll be bringing the case to the Attorney General on Friday.

This incident is not an isolated one. Worker’s Justice Project says they’ve seen an increase in wage theft cases since the pandemic started. They have 30 right now, up from 12 in January.

The pandemic has been especially difficult for undocumented families, who can’t benefit from many of the government’s assistance programs like unemployment.

As they’re fighting for workers, they’re also fighting to keep their funding. 80 percent of the funding is through the city’s Day Laborer Workforce Initiative, which is funded through the city’s discretionary budget.

Right now, Worker’s Justice Project is unsure if that money will make it into the new city budget.