It’s pretty hard to look at agricultural work and the health care industry and not find immigrants, many of whom are undocumented. Because they’re doing hard, often invisible work and because they are commonly dismissed due to their immigration status, we as a society fail to protect these workers while on the job.
WeCount! In Homestead, Florida and the Filipino Migrant Center in Long Beach, California are two organizations working to right this wrong. Both organizations are working to protect the rights of immigrant workers in their communities with CWS administered grants from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
Founder and director of WeCount!, Jonathan Fried explains, “We are currently working on a project to help move the industry toward increasing safe jobs with fair wages... We are focusing on stopping pesticide poisoning and sexual harassment.”
WeCount! members, most of whom work the fields of Florida, are asking for the ability to do their jobs without being poisoned or facing sexual assualt. These are straightforward safeguards that most of us take for granted in our own work. While it might be hard to conceive of someone saying to no to this simple ask, WeCount! anticipates a multi-year campaign to pass these basic protections.
Luckily, WeCount! is not alone in the struggle for immigrant and economic justice. They have a number of allies in the community, among them local churches like Branches United Methodist Church. “Branches is doing great,” says Fried. “They do outreach to day laborers, rights workshops, and leadership training… They have a long history of working in the community.”
Similarly, the Filipino Migrant Center enjoys the support of local and national faith partners. “Our work would not be possible without the help of the church,” says Joy Prim, an UMCOR missionary currently serving at the Filipino Migrant Center. “We’re housed in a supportive Methodist church and have a number of clergy in the community who have played important roles in the workers’ rights movement here.”
Like WeCount!, the Filipino Migrant Center works to protect its members on the job. “Many [of our members] work as nursing aids or in the home health care industry. There is massive exploitation in home health care,” explains Prim. “People are making $40-50 a day and even then are often victims of wage theft.”
Compared to Florida, which dismantled its Department of Labor under Gov. Jeb Bush, California has relatively good protections for workers. Still, Prim says that it can take more than a year for a wage theft case to go to trial.
Even a win in court doesn’t guarantee that the wages will be paid. “Employers can get out of paying by doing things like changing their names.” The Filipino Migrant Center is working hard at the city level to close these loopholes in order to guarantee that workers in Long Beach get paid for the work they do.
To learn more about the UMCOR grants mentioned above, please email Joya Colon-Berezin (email@example.com). Letters of inquiry for the upcoming funding cycle are due by Friday, August 15, 2014.