Excluded workers on Tuesday kicked off a multi-week march to Albany with waves of rolling demonstrations to raise the heat on state lawmakers as the state budget deadline draws near.
It’s a major escalation in a long battle to win an additional $3 billion for the Excluded Workers Fund and a permanent program akin to unemployment insurance for excluded workers who are ineligible for compensation if they lose a job or earnings.
According to Make the Road New York, one of the organizing groups of the rally, the state legislature failed to include either priority in their one-house budget last weekend, “leaving excluded workers out in the cold even as many are still struggling to recover from the pandemic and rising gas prices put a strain on the budgets of working families.”
Excluded workers joined street vendors leading a 24-hour sleepout at Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office to call for state lawmakers to pass legislation to formalize and decriminalize the street vending industry in New York.
They were joined by legislative champions including Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Gov. Ana Maria Archila and New York City Councilmember Carmen de la Rosa.
“This message is for Gov. Hochul: I beg you to put your hand on your heart and think about how we are mothers just like you. We have families, we have children, and we are here fighting for you to include our immigrant community, allow us access to vendor licenses, and expand the social safety net, so that we can live and work with dignity in our home. I want to work safely – I don’t want to live in fear,” said Alicia Gonzalez, a street vendor in the Bronx, who was not able to receive funding in time from the Excluded Workers Fund.
Tuesday afternoon, workers held demonstrations at the offices of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Assemblymember and Labor Committee Chair Latoya Joyner, calling on them to deliver for excluded workers and find funding to support workers’ priorities before the end of the budget deadline.
Workers also planned to make a number of stops at the offices of State Senators and Assemblymembers over the course of their march to Albany.
Hundreds of workers are expected to join the march over the coming days.
The Fund Excluded Workers Coalition will be announcing additional actions in the lead up to the end of the budget deadline.
The action was supported by Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change, National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Laborers Local 79, Coalition for Immigrant Freedom, Los Deliveristas Unidos, New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), the New York Immigration Coalition, Desis Rising Up and Moving, the Laundry Worker Center, the Workers Justice Project, Red de Pueblos Transnacionales, Jahajee Sisters, Churches United for Fair Housing, African Communities Together, Cabrini Immigrant Services, the Don Bosco Workers Center, Community Resource Center, and Sepa Mujer.
Workers are calling for an additional $3 billion for the Excluded Workers Fund to make funding more accessible to workers who could be eligible for it. 130,000 people across New York State have had their lives transformed after receiving funding from the Excluded Workers Fund.
“Yet scores of New Yorkers could still be eligible for funding but didn’t have enough time to qualify or faced barriers in applying,” the Coalition said in a statement.
It pointed to a recent Immigration Research Initiative report that estimated that 175,000 New Yorkers would be eligible for funding if the Excluded Workers Fund was expanded.
Workers are also calling for legislation (A9037 / S8165) that would let the state’s most vulnerable workers access compensation if they lose a job or income.
The Coalition said the legislation would affect three sets of workers – undocumented workers, documented workers paid off the books at certain employers, and self-employed workers making limited income.
“These workers currently cannot get access to assistance if they lose work, a gap underlined during the pandemic, when hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers were left to fend for themselves after being shut out of stimulus checks and unemployment support,” the Coalition said.
It said the program is estimated to cost $800 million in its first year, adding that any surplus would be rolled over to the following year.
“The Excluded Workers Fund has been lifesaving for workers who were left out of economic relief and struggled to put food on the table during the pandemic,” said Angeles Solis, lead organizer at Make the Road New York. “The fund running out in merely two months is a testament to the urgent needs of our communities and a clarion call to replenish this fund.
“It is unacceptable for Gov. Hochul and state lawmakers to both leave thousands of excluded workers behind in their budgets this year,” Solis added. “Today, workers are once again putting their life on the line to send a clear message: we cannot continue to leave workers out in the cold. The final state budget must include an additional $3 billion for the Excluded Workers Fund and permanent unemployment support.”
“Excluded workers deserve full inclusion in this state,” Archila said. “They are marching all the way to Albany to demand that Gov. Hochul and state lawmakers recognize their humanity and their needs.
“The Excluded Worker Fund, which offered a lifeline for those able to access it, must be replenished, and immigrants shut out from health coverage must be given access to life-saving care through the inclusion of Coverage for All in the final budget,” she added.
“The time for clapping for essential workers is over. If leaders in Albany really want to show their respect, they will back the $3 billion in funding that excluded workers have called for again and again – along with a permanent lifeline workers can lean on when times get tough. New York’s economy is roaring back and we have more than enough to make sure the recovery doesn’t leave anybody behind. It’s time for state lawmakers to step up and lead for excluded workers,” said de la Rosa.
“In this critical moment of the economic recovery, we want our contributions during the pandemic to be recognized. All the workers here today have contributed to New York’s resilience, but the State budget doesn’t reflect that. We are asking to be included in the official recovery effort, not only for this crisis, but also for future ones. Economic relief for excluded workers and unemployment benefits for all are the key,” said Luis Cortes, Worker Center Director for the Coalition for Immigrant Freedom.
“It’s easy to talk about saving money for a rainy day when you’re covered by an umbrella. Those of us who have been left standing out in the rain know that New York has been in crisis since long before the pandemic. There are thousands of workers living paycheck to paycheck before the pandemic, who were first left out of pandemic relief only to be unable to access the excluded workers fund because it ran out. They are living in a storm right now. So today, my message to Kathy Hochul is simple. Fund Excluded Workers now,” said Victoria Rivera, Sunset Park Chair at New York Communities for Change.
“We are bringing our fight for New York’s excluded workers to the doorsteps of Speaker Heastie, Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, and Governor Hochul. Our actions today and throughout this month are a reminder to our leadership of how essential our immigrant workers are to New York’s recovery,” said Murad Awawdeh, executive director, New York Immigration Coalition.
“Thousands of immigrant families are still waiting for the relief that was promised by the Excluded Workers Fund, because the fund could not keep pace with the immense need from families still struggling from the hardships of the pandemic,” he added. “But Albany’s powerbrokers can correct this wrong and ensure an equitable recovery for every New Yorker by fully resourcing the Fund to secure the well-being of all our workers, families and the state.”