East Harlem May Day: Protest supports laundry workers

Chanting “Pay the workers what you owe them, wage theft is a crime,” more than 60 activists turned out on May Day for a protest at TYS Laundromat in East Harlem to support Laundry Workers Center members.

TYS owes the workers at least $200,000 in back pay and $400,000 in damages, but continues to try to pay them less and then fire them afterwards.

“We are here on this special day — May Day, the workers’ day — to protest bad employers and owners. Thanks to all of you who are here to support our struggle,” said TYS worker Nicolas Benitez. He was cheered by protesters carrying signs reading, “End wage theft NOW! Wage theft is a crime,” “Safe & healthy conditions are the law,” “Respect the workers. No more physical abuse,” and “No walls in the workers’ struggle.”

LWC organizer Mahoma Lopez said, “This employer has refused to pay the money owed to the workers. We are also concerned about the unsafe working conditions and exposure to chemicals that may make workers sick later. We are here today to let the TYS workers know they are not alone.”

“The laundry workers are mainly women of color, of Asian, African and Caribbean descent,” said LWC organizer Rosanna Rodriguez. “We need a structure change in the laundry industry–to change the conditions of these precarious workers so they can have a better life.” Other rally speakers echoed that theme.

Suzanne Adely of the Food Chain Workers Alliance spoke on behalf of 33 workers’ centers of farm, poultry, warehouse, cleaners and other food-industry workers in the U.S. and around the world. “The LWC models how to build workers’ power in East Harlem,” she said.

“We have to fight the class struggle every day. There are no walls in the workers’ struggle, here and around the world,” said Larry Holmes of the NYC Peoples Power Assembly. “LWC members are heroes of the working class because they have shown us that, whether at laundries or restaurants or other workplaces, the workers will do what they need to do to fight back. And we need to support them.” He urged everyone to sign the International Workers’ Solidarity Network call at workersolidarity.net for a “May Day every month.”

Also addressing the rally were the Street Vendor Project, fighting for permits and to stop police harassment; Families United for Freedom, representing non-U.S. citizens fighting against detention and deportation; BAYAN USA, fighting for the rights of overseas Filipinx workers in the U.S.; Queens Neighborhoods United, active in working-class, immigrant neighborhoods of Jackson Heights, Corona and East Elmhurst in Queens; Harlem Solidarity and Defense, opposing gentrification and gender oppression; and students from the City University of New York and others.

The rally ended with rousing chants of “Union, Fuerza, Solidaridad!” (Union, Strength, Solidarity!) and “Que Queremos? Justicia! Cuando? Ahora!” (What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!) as protesters headed downtown to a May Day demonstration on Wall Street.

For information on LWC campaigns, visit: laundryworkerscenter.org


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