As Dems back Hochul for reelection bid, laborers, tenants demand action on key state legislation

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In an effort to secure a more permanent social safety net for excluded workers, laborers and advocates are calling on lawmakers to pass a state bill.
Photo courtesy Make the Road NY

On Wednesday, inside the Sheraton Times Square Hotel where the New York State Democratic Party Convention was held, the party expectedly threw its support behind Gov. Kathy Hochul’s 2022 reelection bid this summer.

Outside the notable Midtown hotel was a drastically different scene.

Nearly 50 undocumented immigrants and cash-economy workers, known excluded workers, crowded outside the building calling out Hochul for failing to support legislation including a $3 billion push from lawmakers to revive the Excluded Workers Fund — a payment to low-income workers who lost wages due to COVID-19 and who are not eligible for Unemployment Insurance (UI) due to immigration — and a permanent alternative to unemployment insurance.

“The American dream isn’t a dream for you if you’re undocumented, don’t work a white-collar job or trying to get by,” said domestic worker Diana Rosales. Photo courtesy Make the Road NY

Thursday was one of many demonstrations and rallies held by New York City street vendors, domestic and restaurant workers and day laborers across the five boroughs, who refuse to be left out of the governor’s $216.3 executive budget for the 2023 fiscal year.

Domestic workers like Diana Rosales, a Grand Concourse resident who rallied in the Bronx and Queens this week, and outside the Sheraton on Thursday, took umbrage with the fact that her industry is being left out of the governor’s ambitious budget, which is $10 billion higher than expected.

“I mean there’s $3 billion going here, $2 billion is going to these folks, but we’re probably one of the most vulnerable working population of people and we’re once again being shafted,” she said through a translator.

In an effort to secure a more permanent social safety net for these types of workers, including access to health care and unemployment coverage, laborers and advocates are calling on lawmakers to pass a state bill that would establish a permanent program to provide access to compensation on par with unemployment insurance in the event that they lose their job or suffer a loss in income.

Last year, laborers scored a major win when a landmark $2.1 billion was included in last year’s state budget for New York’s Excluded Workers Fund, which happened to be a first-in-the-nation package to provide relief payments to workers who otherwise didn’t qualify for government-issued pandemic aid.

But following high-demand, cash tapped out quickly, and after two months, the state’s Department of Labor — the agency that administers the program — said they could not guarantee that the next batch of applicants would be approved for relief.

The 26-year-old Rosales, a mother of three whose husband is undocumented, said that for most laborers in her industry during the pandemic it’s been less “paycheck to paycheck” and more “getting by through any means.”

“We’re struggling, and we’ve made our voice heard since we were on the front lines of the pandemic,” Rosales said. “The American dream isn’t a dream for you if you’re undocumented, don’t work a white-collar job or trying to get by.”

Currently, workers in these industries cannot get access to assistance if they lose work — a common misfortune that plagued many during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic — and advocates estimated that “hundreds of thousands” of New Yorkers have been left out to dry after being denied federal stimulus checks and unemployment support.

It isn’t just excluded workers who took aim at New York’s leading political figure on Wednesday.

Amid chants of “housing is human right,” New York City tenants criticized Hochul for her lack of the support of Good Cause Eviction legislation (A5573 / S3082), which would prevent landlords from evicting tenants for no cause.

The legislation, according to advocates, is urgent in the wake of the expiration of New York’s eviction moratorium last month. Previous attempts by progressive lawmakers to get Good Cause bills passed in prior state legislative sessions have stalled.

On Monday, Mayor Eric Adams said he supports the concept behind the bill, though he has not weighed in on the measure itself. Hochul has been completely silent on the matter — a note of contention among protesting tenants — despite insistence that her administration has made steps to protect tenants from overreaching landlords.

Hochul’s two Democratic primary opponents, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, a progressive, supports the bill, while U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, a moderate Long Island Democrat, opposes it.

“There’s a labor and housing movement brewing, and I think (Governor) Hochul would be best served to listen to her constituents and not be complicit to the systemic abuse by landlords or the rich,” said Keke Watson, who said she’s faced a string of eviction threats in her Highbridge apartment complex when she was underemployed. “This is New York City, we will vote you out, if you don’t do right by us. So far, she ain’t done right by us.”

Reach Robbie Sequeira at rsequeira@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes. 

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