Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Aug. 14, 1997
issue of Workers World newspaper
Death of a workfare worker: 'A crime waiting to happen'
By Deirdre Sinnott
On July 30, the New York City Council held a hearing to investigate the death of workfare worker Marsha Motipersad, who died of a heart attack in June while on her workfare assignment.
Motipersad had been forced to leave her job of 17 years because she had suffered two heart attacks. Her doctor advised her not to work.
However, the city's Human Resources Administration changed her work category from "not employable" to "employable" and ordered her into an assignment in the Work Experience Program.
Workfairness, an organization of workfare workers and their supporters fighting to unionize WEP workers, held a news conference on the steps of City Hall before the July 30 hearing. Members then testified before City Council.
William Mason, co-chair of Workfairness, drew cheers from hundreds of WEP workers when he told the City Council: "Let there be no mistake, Ms. Motipersad's death was not a fluke. It was a crime waiting to happen because of flagrant disregard of WEP workers' medical conditions.
"Anyone paying attention to workfare knows that it's demeaning to the workers forced to do it, it's a cover for the biggest cheap-labor operation in the country, and it's also dangerous or even deadly to people's health.
"We believe the only lasting solution to the injustices and danger of workfare is to get the WEP workers unionized," Mason concluded. "We believe this is key to winning real jobs, equal wages, and the on-the-job protection that Ms. Motipersad didn't have.
"If Ms. Motipersad had a union to fight for her right to be on disability, she might be alive today."
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