Technology seen as means to end labor abuse of NYC’s immigrant cleaners
By Ruth E. Hernandez Beltran
New York, Jun 30 (EFE).- Female day laborers seeking cleaning work in New York City homes often have similar stories to tell.
They are mostly undocumented Hispanics – some of them recent arrivals – who must wait for hours on the street and often are exposed to inclement weather and vulnerable to sexual harassment.
But a course on the use of apps and other technologies is offering hope for an improved quality of life for these women, 50 of whom became the first graduates of that program on Thursday.
Around 100 women, sometimes more, gather every morning in a small square at the corner of Marcy and Division avenues in a Hasidic Jewish neighborhood in the Big Apple borough of Brooklyn.
The hope is to find a day job and return home in the evening with money in their pockets, but many of these women receive wages that are below the legal limit or less than what they had been promised even as they put up with degrading working conditions.
Most of the employers are members of the neighborhood’s Jewish community, who after briefly negotiating a price leave the square accompanied by a newly hired migrant.
Peru’s Veronica Sandoval told Efe on her first day waiting at the square that she had arrived in New York City three months earlier with her two teenage children, aged 16 and 17, and that they were living with relatives.
“They say there are more opportunities here than in my country,” where she had worked in a beauty parlor, the woman said. Appearing shy and uncertain, she added that she had learned about the square from someone she knew.
Many of the workers, due to their status as undocumented migrants, hid their faces out of fear of being seen by immigration authorities.
These day laborers are receiving assistance from the Brooklyn-based Workers Justice Project, which four years ago organized a group of these women under the name “Liberty Cleaners” and informed them of their rights and the need to negotiate fair pay and working conditions.
“We learned from the Deliveristas Unidos (app-based food couriers) who work with apps,” Mexico’s Maria Valdez, leader of the Liberty Cleaners and coordinator of the technology course, told Efe.
The pilot course, organized by SUNY Empire State College, also taught the women to use environmentally friendly cleaning products.
“Today is a very symbolic graduation for them because they were in a university in this state for the first time. It’s very exciting to see their growth, having started on the corner earning $13 an hour,” Valdez said.
She said the hope is to transform Liberty Cleaners into a platform these immigrants can use to run their own businesses.
Mexico’s Merced Aguilar has been coming to that square for eight years after relocating to New York City from California with one of her sons.
She told Efe she hopes the course will enable her to improve her work situation.
“We’ve gone through a lot of circumstances (with employers), mistreatment, making us work long days for little money. And sometimes they don’t even want to pay us the minimum wage,” Aguilar said.
She said she is hired to work four-hour days at least three times a week and will be demanding pay equivalent to at least the minimum wage – $15 an hour in New York City – after learning about her rights through the Workers Justice Project.
Necessity, however, forces others to accept pay of $12 or $13 an hour and degrading working conditions.