Saturday, August 25, 2007

Immigrant Workers Strike in New York City

30 Immigrants On Bikes Deliver A Labor Revolt
N.Y. Workers Gain Allies in Protest of Wages, Conditions
By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 25, 2007; Page A01

NEW YORK -- The deliverymen of Saigon Grill labored for years at the bottom of Manhattan's food chain. Biking swiftly down the avenues in biting cold and searing heat, they schlepped up high-rises and walk-ups with bags of steaming noodles and shrimp fried rice.

Then they surprised their bosses -- and others in this seen-it-all town -- by serving up something unexpected: a revolt.

The 30 men -- all immigrants, including undocumented workers frustrated with the poor conditions and low wages that are often a fact of life in America's underground economy -- banded together in an effort to unionize. They demanded an end to what they say were salaries less than half the minimum wage, and to penalties that included $20 fines for late deliveries and $50 for shutting the restaurant's glass doors with a bang.

So far, hundreds of deliverymen, waiters, cooks and busboys from across New York have joined their picket lines in shows of solidarity. Angry deliverymen have slapped at least five other restaurants here with similar lawsuits. Immigrants laboring in other types of restaurant jobs have filed several more, targeting small takeout operations and upscale establishments such as Devi, the critically acclaimed Manhattan eatery.

"We have been going under the assumption that because we have no papers, we were powerless -- but we were wrong," Ke, a 35-year-old Chinese immigrant and former Saigon Grill deliveryman, said through an interpreter during a protest last week at the restaurant's fashionable Union Square branch. As with others here, Ke requested that his surname be withheld because he is undocumented. "We have discovered that we have the power to act."...

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Photo: Delivery man on a bicycle

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