The South Asian Workers Center builds the leadership of and organizes low-wage workers in service industries, particularly immigrant women retail workers. The center runs monthly clinics to win unpaid wages, workers rights, and better working conditions.
Of the one million undocumented immigrants in New York City, South Asians and Asians make up the second highest group at 22%, just after Latinos who make up 27%. Thousands of low-wage migrant workers across the city receive below minimum wage, work 12-14 hours a day, often are not given back wages, and are easily exploited due to their immigration status.
DRUM’s groundbreaking report documents the working conditions and patterns of labor violations of South Asian low-wage workers across five industries in New York City. Workers across five industries (domestic, retail, restaurant, taxi, and construction workers) carried out community surveying and identified policy recommendations at the local, state, and federal levels. The report has received wide endorsement (link) and recognition as a first ever report of South Asian low wage migrant workers across industries. Some examples of key findings and testimonies
— 83% of retail workers surveyed make less than minimum wage
— 95% of respondents have no health insurance
— Two-thirds of domestic workers surveyed were not allowed to take breaks
“Sometimes they blackmail us because we do not have papers, saying ‘If you do something I will call immigration.’” – Retail Worker, Jackson Heights
‣ ‘We Respect Jackson Heights Workers’ Campaign
Immigrant workers, community members, and policy makers are organizing for improved wages and labor standards for retail shop and restaurant workers in the Jackson Heights business area, particularly focused on the South Asian businesses in the 72nd -75th street areas near Roosevelt Avenue. The campaign involves public education, community wide petitioning with Jackson Heights residents, meetings among stakeholders and local elected officials, and collaboration with the New York State Department of Labor’s Wage Watch program.
The campaign is also conducting a mini survey project on successes and challenges of small shop organizing efforts to win increased wages and improved work conditions. The project will produce a fact sheet with findings and recommendations for workers and policy makers in 2014.
‣Wage Theft Recovery
In partnership with the Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project, DRUM holds monthly Workers Rights clinics serving hundreds of workers each year by filing unpaid back wage claims, advocating with employers, and conducting Workers Know Your Rights trainings.
Many immigrants spend thousands of dollars to find jobs through employment agencies only to be scammed and exploited by those agencies. Job seekers are charged illegal fees, defrauded by unlicensed agencies, and refused reimbursement even when an agency fails to place a worker at a job. The J4JS coalition is working to pass the Justice for Job Seekers bill (A.9742/S.7742.) in New York State.