Roberto wrote the piece below as a submission to the The Change Agent as part of a project in his ESOL class at NYCC.
Hello, I am Mexican and have been in this country for 9 years. I would like to share my story about discrimination and wage theft. On February 28th, 2005 was when I began to work at Golden Farm. First there was a lot of work and it was really hard. There were days that the boss would have us work from 4am to 7pm. We didn’t have a lunch or food break. Then they had a new manager and that’s when things got really bad. He would demand that we work faster and we couldn’t answer back at all, if we did we would be automatically fired. Later on he would physically hit some of my co-workers and insult them verbally not caring who was around to hear him. Then we spoke to our boss and told him what was happening and he ignored us and just said he was crazy. Then we went to look for help outside of the store and we went to the Department of Labor and they did an investigation on our situation. They found out that we were getting paid $360 dollars a week for 72 hours of work without any benefits like paid sick days or vacation days. They also discovered that in their books the owner would write that we had been paid $637 dollars and would force us to sign for it, even though we were getting paid much less. After over a year we saw no change in our situation so we decided to look for help from other groups and we met Lucas and Kate who work with New York Communities for Change. We decided to file a lawsuit for back wages and at the same time request an election to join a union. After my boss found out about all this he got us all together and asked us to drop the lawsuit and offered to pay us minimum wage ($7.25 an hour) plus $10.85 over time. After some time the manager’s threats were even harsher and every day he would threaten us with calling immigration. He would tell us to keep the door open because one of these days immigration would come and we would need a quick escape. Due to this my co-workers were scared and wanted to forget about the lawsuit and the union. But six of us who weren’t scared of the boss decided to back to the organization, we were able to organize more people in the store and win the election and the lawsuit for back wages. However our boss refuses to give us a work contract. That’s why we’re asking for the people on Church Ave., the people from the community together with NYCC, to continue the daily boycott that has been going on for 3 months now until our boss gives a work contract. He has continued to punish us by cutting our hours, in my case he cut 18 hours a week. The organization together with the Union continue to push for him to give us back our work hours and for a work contract. This is the sad reality of the Golden Farm workers. That’s why I’ve joined my friends and co-workers to learn English so that we won’t allow any more abuses by bosses like Sonny Kim.