[Marxism] More background on Chinatown Delivery Workers

Greg McDonald 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  
last September.

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  
are owed.

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  
start organizing.

"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  
these conditions."

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