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City Agency Offers Help For Day Laborers – QNS.com

City Agency Offers Help For Day Laborers

For almost a year, Manuel (name changed by request) laid floors, put up walls and painted apartments on the sixth floor of a Manhattan apartment building. The architecture firm for whom he was working paid him regularly until August. Then the checks stopped, but his boss told him that he would receive payment for his last month of work soon.
The money never came.
Among the crowds of Central and South American men who gather along Roosevelt Avenue between 60th and 80th streets each morning at dawn, its an old story a well-known hazard of the business. They wait at 74th Street, charging toward each pickup truck that pauses to pick out two or three of them for temporary jobs at construction sites around the city. As undocumented workers, they are usually paid under the table and can earn between $40 to $60 a day. Most try to work at least six days a week, but sometimes there are not enough jobs to go around, and sometimes unscrupulous bosses pay only part or none of what they promised at the beginning of the day.
Workers who havent been paid, or who have faced other problems on the job like discrimination or harassment, do have options. Last week, the New York City Commissioner of Human Rights (HRC), Patricia Gatling, spoke at a community center in Flushing about the resources available to workers through her office.
"We want community people, particularly the new immigrant community who are probably suffering in silence, to know we are here for them," said Gatling. "Theres no penalty [for filing a complaint]and our law prohibits retaliation."
She and three deputy commissioners say they have overhauled the commission, moving quickly through a backlog of over 5,000 cases when they took over the office in 2002 and streamlining the system to push most new cases through in less than a year.
The HRC is prohibited from asking about the legal status of immigrants, although if a worker is undocumented they are excluded from winning any money for damages apart from the wages they are owed.
The HRC also deals with other types of complaints, including the enforcement of public accommodation laws for the disabled and housing discrimination against gender, religion, race, national origin and other groups protected under the law.
"To access the Commission you can call 311. And anyone who feels theyve been discriminated against can stop into our office, too, even if theyre not sure [if it was discrimination or not]," said Mulqueen.
Unlike most of the day laborers that wait on the streets of Jackson Heights, Manuel has been in the United States for over 10 years. He knows some English and a little about the legal system. When his boss refused to pay him, Manuel called the police. They led him to the U.S. Department of Labor, where he filed a complaint against the architecture firm. He received some of the money he was owed, but he is still waiting for the rest.
The commissioners said that they have seen only one or two cases of undocumented workers who were denied wages they earned. Deputy Commissioner Avery Mehlman says workers shouldnt be afraid to come to them for help. "Once they do the work, theyre entitled to get paid, otherwise its illegal," said Mehlman. "We bite the discriminators, not the complainants."
E-mail this reporter at sarah@queenscourier.com.

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