Week 2. Labor Issues in New York City

Fight for 15NYC banner - Sonia Singh

Another dividing issue in New York City is labor. As in cities across the U.S., many groups in the five boroughs are involved in the Fight for 15, or the effort to raise the minimum wage to $15. Eli visited DRUM, an organization that advocates for low-wage South Asian immigrant workers and youth. With a membership of 3,000 – including 900 youth – representing countries that include Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal, DRUM has empowered workers through its campaigns and educational efforts. It has not only been involved in the Fight for 15 but has advocated for undocumented workers who make as little as $3-4 an hour. Although these workers are often scared to speak out for fear of deportation, DRUM has given them a place to unite and learn about their rights and resources. DRUM has also been involved in successful campaigns. When the NYC Police Department planned to map Muslim businesses, DRUM collaborated with other organizations to stop this destructive initiative. Shahina Parveen, a leader of DRUM, said: “When our own government, our own police, our own institutions, and our own media continue to engage in racial profiling or painting our communities as suspect, we cannot expect the results to be any different than these tragic cases of racial violence.” This effort, and others like it, are important because they defend the South Asian immigrant community in New York City from injustices.

Alex visited the Street Vendor Project. This non-profit organization assist street vendors with applying or renewing their license and educating them about their legal rights and responsibilities. They also hold meetings to plan collectively for any action they choose to make. There are more than 10,000 street vendors in New York City and about 2,000 joined the membership-based project in order to create a vendors’ movement for permanent change. Street vendors are being harassed by the police department and there is even a special unit just for police to stop unlicensed street vendors and arrest them. Many of these vendors are immigrants and people of color selling in the streets year round as their only source of income. The organization’s focus is to build some power for street vendors. In 2010, there was a big win for street vendors as minor fines, such as selling too close to the street, were lowered to a maximum of $250 after Mayor Bloomberg’s administration raised the fines to a maximum of $1,000 per ticket. Street vendors and the Street Vendor Project took it to city council and have been having multiple meetings with council members and community board members to protect the rights of street vendors. Private businesses and future development projects have no interest in having street vendors in their property and that has limited the space of where vendors can station themselves throughout the city.
As we begin our travels to Ahmedabad, India, we are interested to learn about the issues this city faces and how they compare to NYC.

Alex Perez ’17 and Elizabeth (Eli) Valenzuela ’17

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