Day laborers fight for right to work
Sue N.Y. town for closing public hiring sites
Day laborers wait for work August 17 in Mamaroneck, New York. The trial to hear charges filed by workers there against cop harassment opened September 11.
BY RÓGER CALERO
MAMARONECK, New York, September 20A federal lawsuit filed by day laborers in April against the village of Mamaroneck in Westchester County23 miles north of New York Cityhas become a focus of the struggle for legalization of immigrants, and the fight for the right of day laborers to seek jobs in public places.
The lawsuit accuses town officials and police of harassing and discriminating against the overwhelmingly Latino workers through a deliberate campaign to drive them off the streets.
On September 11, the first day of the trial, four workers named in the lawsuit, local contractors, and other witnesses testified about harassment that day laborers and contractors are subjected to by town cops posted at street corners where workers gather to wait for jobs.
The four plaintiffs are being allowed to remain anonymous during the trial, identified only as John Does, because of fear of retaliation from immigration authorities.
Every day, the same racist cop on a bicycle comes to the corner where we stand, and stares at us as if he is going to do something to us, until we eventually move, René López, originally from Guatemala, who works as a painter, told the Militant here today. Wherever we stand the cop says we cant stand there and follows you until you move again. He makes us nervous. We all have the right to seek out a living, and they think we have less value as human beings.
In April, the town closed a site at Columbus Park where the workers used to wait for jobs, supposedly to avoid a possible lawsuit from residents objecting to the use of the towns land as an official hiring site. This area had been shut down temporarily in January after residents complained that a growing number of day laborers were gathering at the park and causing disturbances.
Oscar Cadena, from Mexico, works as a taper in construction. He said the number of contractors coming by to offer jobs has dropped because of harassment by cops, who have been giving tickets to the contractors for stopping to talk to the workers.
This used to be a good stop, Cadena told the Militant, adding that day laborers have been coming here to seek jobs for many years.
We are not hurting anybody, said Alberto Quiñonez, who is also a member of Local 530 of the tapers union. They say we are using drugs and causing public disturbances, but they have never arrested anyone. Quiñonez said he comes here often when work through the union is slow in Manhattan. You have to seek out a living anyway you can, he told the Militant.
We want the court to determine that whether you are a documented or undocumented laborer, you have certain basic rights that cannot be violated by the government, said Cesar Perales, president of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, which is assisting the workers with the lawsuit. This is an undercurrent that will go through many other suburbs. What you have is local governments employing different tactics to drive out the day laborers, he said.
The lawsuit against the village of Mamaroneck is one of several that have been filed in recent years by day laborers and their supporters to counter attacks by capitalist politicians and rightist groups across the country seeking to criminalize these workers.
The antilabor measures include English-only local ordinances, and other provisions that penalize companies or landlords for employing or renting to undocumented immigrants. This includes cracking down on contractors, giving local cops the power to check workers immigration status, and turning over to federal immigration agents those without proper documents for deportation. Workers also face anti-loitering laws, selective and discriminatory enforcement of housing codes, and vehicle and traffic legislation.
The lawsuits by day laborers reflect a fighting mood among a growing number of workers who are willing to defend their rights.
Groups of day laborers attended the daily court hearings after the trial started, workers here told the Militant.
According to the September 17 New York Times, one of the workers who testified at the trial, identified as John Doe 6, told the court through a Spanish interpreter, An officer stands very close, sometimes within a foot or 18 inches, to where I or a group of day laborers stand. He crosses his arms and stares at us for long periods of time until we eventually feel compelled to change our location.
Sometimes, he added, he places his hand on his gun while he stares at us.
Many of the day laborers here also took part in the areas May 1 actions to demand legalization for all immigrants. The majority here did not work that day, said José García, 20, from Guatemala, who works in landscaping. We have to do something, not just stand here looking for work.
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