September 22, 2014
By Marc Bussanich
Port Chester, NY—Communications Workers of America Local 1033 and the Don Bosco Workers, Inc. worker center announced the start of a new campaign to put an end to rampant wage theft in this solidly working-class, immigrant community.
At the press conference, Ann Heekin, president of Don Bosco Workers, Inc., said in the accompanying video interview that wage theft hurts more than workers; it hurts the entire community.
“It hurts responsible local businesses, hurts the local economy when wages are lost and money can’t be spent locally and increases the demand for emergency social services which also comes back to us in terms of increased taxes. So this is a community problem, it is everybody’s problem and it is everybody’s problem to solve together,” said Heekin.
She noted that wage theft is ongoing in Port Chester.
“We have at any given time open cases valued at $20,000, and that’s significant when you put it in perspective—most of our wage claims because theses are low-wage workers run less than $1,000, and that’s a game changer. If I make a $1,000 a week and it doesn’t come home that week, I’m perhaps out of a home, I can’t feed my family and so forth,” Heekin said.
To help limit or eliminate the rampant wage theft, Heekin said the two organizations are going to put predatory employers on notice.
“The way we’re going to apply pressure is that we are going to work with local, responsible business owners to support this campaign and to voluntary carry a good workplace seal of approval, and we’re hoping that over time those seals will hang in the majority of the windows on the avenue, and the ones where they’re missing I think we’ll know who they are,” she said.
Reena Arora is a workers’ rights attorney in the Yonkers office of the Empire Justice Center. She said in the accompanying video interview that three groups of workers—day laborers, domestic workers and restaurant workers—are the most vulnerable in Port Chester.
“The problem with the day laborers is mostly with the subcontractors, so you see folks [in the landscaping and construction industry] doing very hard, dangerous work and not seeing a cent of their wages,” Arora said. “Restaurant workers are working extraordinarily long hours, not seeing any overtime. And domestic workers are so vulnerable that we hardly get to see them because they can’t get out of the house.”
Kevin Sheil is president of CWA Local 1103. He said it’s important to have community buy-in in order to fight wage theft in Port Chester.
“We believe there is. There’s religious support, business support and it has to be in conjunction with labor support. If there are enough businesses here who do the right thing and I think they feel they shouldn’t be uncut by these unsavory businesses,” said Sheil. “I think overall it’s a real good thing when you have these different groups coming together and I think that is the way to fight against wage theft, and I think we will be successful.”
After the presser, workers from the worker center walked down Westchester Avenue to start talking with local business owners, asking them if they would place the good workplace seal of approval on their storefronts.