This week’s webinar focused on how COVID-19 has impacted undocumented workers, the risks that undocumented workers face when they organize against unsafe conditions, and how workers are fighting back despite threats of retaliation. More than 40 people attended this webinar.
Vineeta Kapahi, Policy Analyst with NJ Policy Perspective, offered context for why COVID-19 has hit undocumented New Jerseyans particularly hard. Undocumented workers make up a large portion of the workforce in industries deemed essential during the pandemic, and many have been forced to work in unsafe conditions, particularly in sectors already governed by poor or poorly enforced labor protections such as farmwork and warehousing. High rates of workplace exposure, as well as lack of access to health insurance and paid sick leave, have caused disproportionately high COVID-19 death rates in undocumented communities. Undocumented workers are also disproportionately represented in sectors that have experienced the most job losses due to COVID-19, yet they have been excluded from many forms of relief, including CARES Act payments.
Immigration enforcement has also exacerbated the dangers of COVID-19 for many undocumented people. All four of New Jersey’s detention facilities have had COVID-19 outbreaks, meaning detention by ICE can be a death sentence. Enforcement also allows for employer retaliation against workers who call for COVID-19 protections.
Despite the risk of retaliation, undocumented workers are continuing to organize for safe conditions. Rosanna Rodríguez, Co-Executive Director of the Laundry Workers Center – a grassroots, member led organization that advocates for low-wage immigrant workers in New York and New Jersey – shared a current example of how workers are standing up to threats of retaliation. Rosanna shared that the multinational packing and paper company MondiGroup refused to follow COVID-19 protocols at its NJ facilities, leading to many COVID-19 cases and two worker deaths last April. When workers demanded protections, MondiGroup fired 18 people with an average of 22 years at the company — a clear case of retaliation. These workers approached Laundry Workers Center, which is now supporting their fight for compensation and recognition of the right to refuse unsafe work. Despite MondiGroup’s threats to report workers to ICE, they continue to protest daily at the two NJ facilities in Ridgefield and Leonia. MondiGroup’s intimidation tactics are commonly used by companies that employ undocumented workers, and it is critical that organizing workers know they are not alone.
Laundry Workers Center is coordinating a march on April 5 to honor the two workers who lost their lives and bring public attention to the company. The march will begin at 2 pm in front of MondiGroup’s Leonia facility and continue at the Ridgefield facility, where the two employees worked last April. Allies can also support by spreading the word about the march on social media, using the hashtags #pandemicprofiteers and #twodeathstoomany.