[Marxism] More background on Chinatown Delivery Workers
sabocat59 at mac.com
Wed Aug 29 06:46:09 MDT 2007
August 01, 2007
The next time a delivery man shows up at your door with Chinese food,
a cheeseburger deluxe or a pizza, think about Gil Santiago.
Santiago, 27, came to New York from Mexico six years ago. To support
his wife and three kids back in Mexico, he worked for five years at
Flor De Mayo restaurant, on Amsterdam Avenue at 84th Street, until
He made deliveries, did janitorial work, hauled groceries, and worked
six days a week, 12 hours a day, with no breaks, for $90 a week. That
averages out to $1.25 an hour. Even with tips from deliveries
averaging about 30 a day, Santiago earned less than New York's $4.60
an hour minimum wage for tipped employees.
Despite his minuscule wages, Flor De Mayo required him to provide his
own bicycle, which cost him $330.
"They treat us like slaves, and I'm fighting for my rights."
In May, after a union organizing dispute at the nearby Saigon Grill
Restaurant called attention to the pitiful wages and poor working
conditions for restaurant delivery workers citywide, the management
at Flor de Mayo raised the salaries of its deliverymen to $184 a week
and reduced their work week to 40 hours, its workers said. Even so,
last week Santiago, Fernando Lopez, Adolfo Lopez and Venancio Galindo
sued the restaurant. They're asking for more than $500,000 total in
back wages, unpaid overtime, reimbursable work expenses, and punitive
damages for being exploited.
Flor de Mayo's owners, Jose Chu and Phillip Chu, did not return a
call for comment.
Legal challenges by workers in the city's low-paid industries to
their working conditions are growing. The exploitation of workers in
Chinatown has been reported for years. But last week former employees
of celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who owns upscale
Manhattan restaurants, filed lawsuit in claiming he paid them
subminimum wages, cheated them out of overtime and forced them to
share tips with their bosses.
The exploitation of low-wage workers is one of the biggest social
issues of our time. A study of low-wage jobs in New York City
released by The Brennan Center for Social Justice last month found a
widespread pattern of abuses in certain industries - ranging from
restaurants, groceries and retail stores, to building maintenance and
security, laundry and dry cleaning, domestic work, and beauty salons.
The most common abuses are paying workers below the minimum wage,
forcing them to work long hours without paying overtime, ignoring
health and safety regulations, failing to buy workers' compensation
insurance, and retaliating against workers who complain. The study
found that the exploited workers are often immigrants and people
who've been released from prison.
I'm told that New York State has some of the most progressive labor
laws in the country. But its department of labor is understaffed.
Even when workplace abuses are discovered, critics say, the
department often settles for settlements far less than the workers
But when it comes to wages and workplace treatment, it doesn't matter
the workers are here legally or illegally. All workers should be paid
and treated according to the law.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer has demonstrated concern about workers' issues,
and created a bureau for immigration workers in the labor department.
Last fall, after a number of highly publicized deaths at construction
sites, most of them involving immigrant laborers, Mayor Michael
Bloomberg funded a task force to address safety issues.
The way for workers to get relief from oppressive work conditions is
to sue or to complain to the right agencies. But plenty of immigrants
don't know what the labor laws are, and if they do, they may be
afraid to complain for fear of having their illegal status revealed.
That's why more community groups like National Mobilization Against
Sweatshops, a workers advocacy group, need to educate workers about
their rights. Once workers start talking about their problems, they
"All New York delivery workers need to open their minds and realize
we have rights," Fernando Lopez told me. "We have the right to fight
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