The Trump Effect

December 21, 2017

Until recently, Abril (her name has been changed to protect her identity) was living a normal life as one of the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who call Greater Boston home. Washing dishes at a popular restaurant, she managed a modest living that contributed to the $4.3 billion immigrant workers generate through spending to our state economy every year. But her life turned upside down the day she broke her wrist on the job.
 
Immediately, Abril was fired by her employer, who then claimed she never worked for the business in order to avoid paying workers’ compensation payments. Her employer’s action effectively cut off Abril’s access to medical care and income while she could not work. But this was just the beginning of her abuse.
 
“Abril came to us terrified,” said Worker Center Coordinator Milagros Barreto. “Her employer had told her not to file for benefits because if she did, he said he knew where she lived and he knew where her family lived in Central America where violent crime is rampant. He even sent a coworker to her home to harass her. She became too afraid to even leave the house. If a car’s lights shined into her apartment, she would hide. It became so bad, she had to move.”
 
With the recent surge in anti-immigrant political sentiment, MassCOSH is finding undocumented workers are becoming increasingly reluctant to challenge wage theft, dangerous conditions, and even report workplace injuries.
 
“This campaign of hate that’s going on right now in our nation, everyone at the Worker Center is just soo sad,” reports Barreto. “They feel demoralized, they are too afraid to come to meetings, answer the phones, come to trainings or go to actions, they are locked in their homes. What’s happening in the news and what our President is saying has made organizing very difficult.”
 
Responding to workers’ fears, MassCOSH is taking unprecedented steps to ensure these isolated and frightened workers know their rights so they are not preyed upon by employers like Abril’s. Working with our partner Justice At Work, we are expanding our panel of volunteer lawyers to include immigration experts. House visits have become standard practice to reach workers so they can feel safe enough to learn their rights and how to document abuse. Trainings are also being provided alongside legal professionals so that workers can have their unique legal questions answered by an expert.
 
“Education is key,” says MassCOSH Executive Director Jodi Sugerman-Brozan “It’s the main tool we have to prevent rampant abuse from taking place in the low-wage immigrant community. Now it’s harder, and it takes much more time, but it’s work we have to do and work we will continue to do no matter what. These workers, and the labor movement as a whole, are counting on us.”
 
MassCOSH is actively looking for volunteers who can help the Workers Center with legal expertise, hotline assistance, providing safe spaces and funding. If you would like to help immigrant workers in these difficult times, please email milagros.barreto@masscosh.org.