By Jeremy Walsh
In the midst of a recession that has seen nonprofit groups scramble for continued funding, one Queens activist organization has a little extra to celebrate this holiday season.
Long Island City’s Brandworkers International, a group that helps retail and food wholesale employees advocate for better wages and hours, was one of a handful of organizations to win the citywide Union Square Award and its $50,000 prize.
“With minimal resources, these organizations make extraordinary contributions to local neighborhoods and their work is vital to New York City. Given the current economic situation, the award represents an important support to sustain these emerging organizations,” said Iris Morales, the awards organization’s executive director, in a statement.
Brandworkers, like all Union Square awardees, was anonymously nominated for the prize.
“We were really honored and very pleased to receive the award this year,” said Executive Director Daniel Gross at the group’s headquarters at the rear of the Teamsters Local 805 office. “Many of the groups that we admire and who are coalition partners day to day in this work have been past honorees.”
Gross said the money will go to expanding the group’s outreach program to contact more workers at more organizations, training them to organize themselves and instructing them on their rights. Brandworkers focuses chiefly on companies in Queens and Brooklyn.
Brandworkers was founded in 2007 by Gross and workers from Wild Edibles, a seafood wholesaler whose employees claimed the company did not pay overtime and retaliated against workers who tried to organize.
The group soon mobilized demonstrations against Wild Edibles, whose warehouse once sat on Borden Avenue in Long Island City. Brandworkers convinced many restaurants to stop buying from the company and its fight against the seafood wholesaling company may have contributed to the firm’s filing for bankruptcy protection in July 2008. Brandworkers deals mostly with Latino immigrants, but also some from Asian countries, he said.
“Our bread and butter is really enabling workers to become social change leaders,” Gross said, noting the group also provides legal assistance to workers in need.
To that effect, several members of the group’s advisory board are immigrant workers, like Astoria residents Cesar Barduren and Raymondo Lara. Both are former Wild Edibles employees.
“We are proud because we learn to know all our immigrant rights,” Barduren said, “and [we are proud] that there are many people like me and like my co-workers who don’t experience exploitation.”
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.