Action Alert: Domestic Workers Protest Tomorrow in New York

Andolan is circulating this on behalf of two of their members. They're a really great bunch of people that I used to work with and are having a press conference on rally tomorrow, Thursday, June 26, 2008 10:00 am at Suffolk County Criminal Court, 400 Carleton Ave. Central Islip, NY (Long Island) 11722-4504.

Update: Venue Change!!!!

Long Island Courthouse
United States District Court
Eastern District of New York
Long Island Courthouse
100 Federal Plaza
Central Islip, NY 11722
Main Telephone Number
(631) 712-6000

If you can show up, it would be tremendous.

Here's their press release; their response to a NY Times article on the issue that they felt was too sympathetic to the Indian immigrant abusers in this case is below the fold:

Community Seeks Justice and Rallies Around Workers

Domestic Workers Outraged by Long Island Case, Call for Justice and Labor Standards

Central Islip, NY -- In support of the two Indonesian domestic workers in Long Island who were held as virtual prisoners, physically abused and underpaid for five years, New York domestic workers rallied on Thursday at 10:00 am at the courthouse, during the sentencing of the employers, to demand justice, basic labor protections and recognition for New York’s 200,000 domestic workers. The two women, still living in fear, are receiving support from other domestic workers. “It’s not right to treat workers like slaves and beat them up. It is wrong and it must stop. We will be there for her,” says Rosa, also from Indonesia and a member of Andolan Organizing South Asian Workers, a domestic worker organization based in Jackson Heights, Queens.

In Long Island, many domestic workers work live-in, isolated for weeks at a time, often far from any public transportation or the general public. In gated communities, like where Samirah and Nora worked, one can go for days without seeing anyone but your employers. Even screams won’t be heard. Unity Housecleaners, a cooperative of housecleaners serving the area, claim they are not surprised. “The reason why we formed a cooperative, was so that we could know what to expect--the fairness that we deserve. Most employers will take advantage if you are not organized,” says Lilliam Juarez of Unity Housecleaners. “Many people like me thought this case was outrageous and rare. But it happens right here on Long Island which is why new worker protections need to be enacted. Samira and Enung, the workers who were abused need reparations to make their families whole again.” stated Lisa Tyson Director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition.

Advocates will demand the strongest sentence possible, and believe this is but the tip of the iceberg; systemic changes are needed. While domestic work is vital to the New York State economy, this entire hidden workforce is vulnerable to severe abuse. “This case is but one example of the type dehumanizing treatment that many domestic workers face,” says Carolyn de Leon, organizer with CAAAV-Organizing Asian Communities and former domestic worker. “How many more cases like this must occur before there’s change?” Domestic Workers United, representing New York domestic workers since 2000, has been advocating for the legislature to enact labor standards and protections to recognize the workforce since 2004. They believe the Long Island case proves the urgent need for this measure. At the end of this legislative session, they want their voices heard.

“Every time I hear a story like this it brings back what I went through, working long hours and sleeping on the floor behind the couch where it was too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer,” says Estella Ng’ambi, a domestic worker in Long Island and member of Domestic Workers United. “Some people are lucky and find a good employer, but the truth is any one of us could have been ‘Samirah.’ because we are invisible.”

"This horrific case is a prime example of why there needs to be a complete change of direction when it comes to labor laws regarding domestic workers in the State of New York. By refusing to acknowledge domestic workers as a vulnerable workforce in need of protection, we are pushing them underground and covering up labor law violations in the process. I strongly urge my colleagues and the Governor to pass Assembly Bill A.628B and Senate Bill S.5235 this legislative session,” said Assemblyman Wright.

For Immediate Release June 25, 2008

Contacts:

(516) 565 – 5377 Lilliam Juarez [Unity/The Workplace Project]
(516) 987 – 5459 Mauricio
(917) 744-0812 Chitra Aiyar [Andolan]
(646) 240 – 6881 Joyce [DWU]
(516) 749 -5074 Lisa Tyson

###

And here is their response to the New York Times article on the story:

CONTACTS: CHITRA AIYAR: (917) 744-0812
ROSA: 917-566-8633

KRITTIKA GHOSH: (718) 751-5749

ADDRESS:
ANDOLAN
P.O. Box 720364
Jackson Heights, NY 11372

To the Editor of The New York Times;

We, the members of Andolan, a NYC-based domestic workers organization, are disappointed with your recent coverage of the upcoming sentencing of Sabhnani’s for their exploitation of domestic workers. (Eric Konisberg "Couple's Downfall is Culminating in Sentencing in Long Island Slavery Case June 23rd) Mr. Konisberg provides a shockingly lop-sided portrait of the story, giving ample space to a romanticized account of the Sabhnani's family relationship and their rise to acquire the "American dream.” In contrast, the struggles and voices of Samirah and Enung, the domestic workers employed and abused by the Sabhnani's, remain largely glossed over.

The article sympathizes with the journey of the Sabhnani's from new immigrants to wealthy entrepreneurs, the life they left behind in India, the growth of their family business, their purchase of a house in Long Island, and their sentencing to Nassau Correctional facility, despite the crimes they committed and the suffering which occurred at their expense. These caricatures are embellished by generous quotes from the Sabhnani's daughter Pooja and their family friend Mr. Jothwani.

The lives of Samirah and Enung, in comparison, are justified, in the words of economist Dilip Ratha, as a “common template for the many workers who leave countries like Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia for wealthier nations so that they can send their earnings home to their families.” There is little depth to the fact that thousands of Samirahs and Enungs have also struggled to attain the “American dream”, yet are unheard because they are undocumented, have few resources, and are often isolated from any form of community or institutional support.

Given the disparity in resources between middle-class immigrants such as the Sabhani’s and domestic workers such as Samirah and Enung, their escape and survival is the more impressive story. So many domestic workers are silenced, because their employers are also immigrants, and their relationship becomes confused as members of the same family, versus an employer-employee relationship. The article reports no mention of the supporters of Samirah and Enung, including the many local community organizations, such as Andolan – Organizing South Asian Workers, who are advocating on their behalf, or the Housecleaners in Long Island or Domestic Workers United. In fact, all of these workers’ rights organizations have been pushing for legislation requiring minimum wage page and dignity for all workers.

We are concerned that not only were the voices of the two women silenced by the Sabhnani's, but the article offered no insight into the plight and activism of domestic workers. This is especially alarming considering this article is printed just days before the Sabhnani's sentencing for their heinous crimes.

Andolan - Organizing South Asian Workers is an organization founded by and for low-wage South Asian immigrant women workers to empower one another and to collectively organize against poor workplace conditions, gender discrimination, and xenophobia. Andolan's over 100 members are primarily domestic workers - babysitters, housekeepers, and cooks who are often abused due to their isolated work environments coupled with stigma, limited English proficiency, and irregular immigration status. Our ten years of organizing domestic workers in the South Asian community disproves Mr. Jothwani's testament- “There is no way on earth any Indian family in the United States could do what they were accused of. The [Indian] people I know here all feel this way. Anybody from India who has come here comes from a very good family.” In fact many upwardly-mobile, affluent, members of the Indian American community are complicit in abusing low-wage workers.

We hope that for the sake of journalistic integrity your next story on this case will offer more insight into the experiences of Samirah and Enung, and overall, the lives of domestic workers in New York. We encourage your response and feedback.

Sincerely,
Members of Andolan

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