Worker Rights Organization and Rutgers University Garner Three Federal OSHA Grants

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—New Labor, a nonprofit community organization and local leader in the national campaign for just and humane immigration reform was awarded a $164,980 grant by the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administatrion on September 8.

Rutgers University and its School of Public Health are two other local recipients of funding through the Susan Harwood Training Grant Program.  The amounts are $171,000, and 140,000 respectively.

The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) awarded a total of $10.6 Million to 78 organizations nationwide.

"The federal grants "will provide workers and employers in some of the most dangerous industries with important tools to identify and eliminate hazards," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez.

Award categories for 2014 grants were: Targeted Topic Training, including Training and Educational Materials Development, and Capacity Building Pilot and Capacity Building Developmental, including one-year follow-on grants to recipients from 2013.

The Susan Harwood Training Grant Program both advocates safety and supports health training programs to educate workers and employers in jobs with high injury rates. It also supports vulnerable workers, and workers who speak very little English or are underserved.

"The Susan Harwood Training Program provides thousands of workers and employers with hands-on, critical health and safety training to reduce occupational injuries," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez.

While New Labor has empowered workers to recover hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages owed by various size businesses, the recent grant is designed to aid small businesses improve many health and safety conditions.

"The New Jersey Residential Construction Health and Safety Project will provide a total of 1,197 hours of training to 1,530 workers, contractors and subcontractors," reads the grant abstract.

"Through these activities we seek to inform day laborers and construction workers about their rights and empower them to make choices to protect their health and safety and that of their co-workers. Of equal priority is ensuring that employers understand their legal obligations and the basic health and safety practices necessary to reduce injuries and occupational health hazards."

The abstract says the  program's target audience is "non-English speaking/limited English proficient, non-literate and low literacy workers; young workers; immigrant and minority and other hard-to-reach workers employed in residential construction."  The organization hopes to impact workers in several NJ Congressional districts (03, 04, 06, 07, 08, 09, 10, and 12.)

With centers in Lakewood and Newark as well, New Labor has expanded its reach into other parts of the state, each one with its own unique challenges and types of workers to organize. 

“Our members make up the workforce in a variety of important employment sectors in NJ, including: warehousing and logistics, work through temporary employment agencies, domestic work, construction and remodeling, street vending and other small business, landscaping, restaurant work, and day labor,” reads the organization's website.

“New Labor seeks to develop comprehensive grassroots organizing strategies to raise standards in these sectors.”

The Brunswick-based community group made headlines last summer when it joined Unity Square, another New Brunswick community immigrant and civil right organization, in a successful campaign to get the City Council and Mayor to implement an ordinance targeting "wage theft."  Princeton has since adopted the ordinance as well.

At issue was an already illegal practice of paying a worker less than the state and federal minimum wage or not paying overtime for working more than 40-hours per week (or, in this case unpaid wages).

But getting business owners to pay up proved difficult, even if judgments were entered against them.  So, New Labor and Unity Square asked the city to pass a law that would prevent the businesses from getting their licenses renewed until they had "cured" all violations.

According to its website, New Labor is “an alternative model of worker organization that combines new and existing strategies to improve working conditions and provide a voice for immigrant workers throughout New Jersey.”

It was founded in 2000 and has over 2,000 dues-paying members forming its base.

“New Labor organizes to develop power and amplify our members’ voices in the community, the workplace, and the political realm,” states the website.

Five basic principles guide the institution: working together, creating opportunities, respect, empowerment, and equality.

Dave is an award-winning business reporter who has authored over 200 articles for New Brunswick Today.