Hundreds of excluded workers shut down Brooklyn, Manhattan bridges

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Hundreds of excluded workers march for improve benefits on Brooklyn Bridge.
Make the Road New York

Hundreds of excluded workers and electeds came together on Tuesday in massive marches over the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges to raise the heat for an additional $3 billion for the Excluded Workers Fund in the State budget and a permanent program dubbed “Excluded No More” to provide compensation to workers who have lost a job or income and are ineligible for unemployment insurance.

Workers in helmets, vests, cleaning supplies and other work tools linked arms to shut down the bridges as the deadline approaches for the State Senate and Assembly to release their one-house budgets.

They were joined by Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor of New York Ana María Archila and elected officials including New York City Comptroller Brad Lander and Council Members Carmen de la Rosa, Sandy Nurse and Lincoln Restler.

“While so many of my friends and neighbors were able to access the fund, so many others never got a chance because of how quickly the fund ran out of money,” said Victoria Rivera, a board member at New York Communities for Change. “We marched so that the thousands of workers who didn’t get it can finally get the relief they need. We need to refund the Excluded Workers Fund and work to create a permanent solution by passing Excluded No More,”

Workers at the action demanded an additional $3 billion for the Excluded Workers Fund to make funding more accessible to workers who could be eligible for it.

Organizers said more than 130,000 people across New York State have had their lives transformed after receiving funding from the Excluded Workers Fund.

Yet, they said, scores of New Yorkers could still be eligible for funding but didn’t have enough time to qualify or faced barriers in applying.

A recent Immigration Research Initiative report 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 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 program is estimated to cost $800 million in its first year, and any surplus would be rolled over to the following year.

Laborers Local 79, a union representing more than 10,000 workers in the construction industry, supported the Excluded No More proposal, saying it would help close the gap between union and non-union contractors, while making it easier for construction workers to organize freely on the job without fear of retaliation.

Besides Laborers Local 79, organizations supporting Tuesday’s march included Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change, National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Los Deliveristas Unidos, New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), the New York Immigration Coalition, Desis Rising Up and Moving, the Laundry Worker Center, 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 Cente, and Sepa Mujer.

“The Excluded Workers Fund is an essential program that has provided life-saving funds to so many hardworking New Yorkers during their time of need, and it absolutely should become permanent,” said NYC Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams, the son of Grenadian immigrants.

“We worked hard to establish the Excluded Workers Fund earlier in the pandemic, and Albany must continue that work by passing the Excluded No More proposal,” he added. “The fund has been an essential lifeline to so many during the pandemic, and the state should invest in a permanent program so that all New Yorkers who have lost income but are not eligible for unemployment insurance can feel safe.”

Lander said “New York City and its economy are stronger when all working families get the support they need to weather a crisis with food on the table and a roof over their heads.

“The pandemic laid bare the holes in our social safety net, which left hundreds of thousands of Black and brown low-wage workers to fall through,” he said. “People who deliver meals, sanitize our subway stations, take care of our homebound elders, harvest our crops, and so many other essential tasks to keep our society going deserve the same social support when hard times cause them to lose work.

“At a time when our budget outlook is strong, we can and we must invest in programs that strengthen our collective resilience,” Lander added. “Helping excluded workers get back on their feet now and expanding our social safety net to catch them the next time there’s a crisis will help secure a lasting and inclusive economic recovery for NYC.”

Archila said “the labor of immigrant, Black, and brown workers has carried us through the pandemic, and we must honor their sacrifice with a second round of funding for excluded workers and a permanent program to ensure access to unemployment compensation.

“Albany has more than enough resources in the budget to make these workers whole,” she added. “It’s time for Gov. Hochul and state leaders to step up and get it done.”

De la Rosa said “Excluded workers kept New York City going during the pandemic, yet nearly two years to the day after New York first shut down, hundreds of thousands of workers are still left out of support and unable to stay afloat.

“It’s wrong to keep the safety net shut to people who are an essential part of our communities and the lifeblood of our state’s economy,” she said. “We need to expand the Excluded Workers Fund and make it possible for excluded workers to get help when they lose a job or earnings. We owe a debt to essential workers, and it’s time to do more than just clap.”

“Today, our communities reminded Gov. Hochul and state legislators that we cannot afford to exclude our state’s most vulnerable workers from the funding they need to feed their families and get back on the road to recovery after two years of this pandemic,” said Murad Awawdeh, Executive Director, New York Immigration Coalition.

“Now is the time to permanently repair the holes in our safety net and create a system that supports all working New Yorkers no matter where they are from. Albany can do this by fully funding the Fund for Excluded Workers,” he added. “In doing so, New York will blaze a trail as a leader on immigrant rights and ensure that every New Yorker has an equitable chance at recovery from this recession.”

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