Immigrant workers rebuild storm ravaged waterfront job center

March 4, 2013 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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An employment center destroyed by Hurricane Sandy was rebuilt by determined immigrants who congregate there in the hope of finding day jobs.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held March 2 to mark the triumphant reopening of Bay Parkway Community Job Center. Located next to the Caesar’s Bay Shopping Mall in Bensonhurst, the 13-year-old employment center sits on the waterfront at Gravesend Bay. The building was completely ripped up by the surges of water and the strong winds that swept through Bensonhurst during the Oct. 29 super-storm. The wind uprooted the building and tossed it several blocks away.

“The workers decided to rebuild their center out of a recycled sea iron container that will be resistant to sea water and strong winds. It is durable and moveable in case another storm hits,” said Ligia Guallpa, executive director of the Workers Justice Project , the organization that sponsors the job center.

“Currently the center is been renovated with recycled and greener materials as well. Due to community support, a Chilean muralist has contributed his talent to portray the immigrant story by making a mural on the container. The mural has brought a lot community attention in terms of having people what it means, and the important of working together as a community made of immigrants,” Guallpa told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 

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“The workers from the Bay Parkway Community Job Center were among the first and hardest working volunteers following Hurricane Sandy. It is only fitting and right that their center, which has become such an important part of the community, is reopening to ensure these workers’ access to job support and safe work environments.” Councilman Domenic Recchia Jr. (D-Coney Island-Gravesend) said. 

In the aftermath of Sandy, day laborers carried out some of the most dangerous jobs in the recovery effort, including removing water from flooded basements, cleaning up debris, demolition, and other home infrastructure repairs in the coastal areas of the city, representatives of the Workers Justice Project said.

“We were the first to help families with the clean up, and now we are doing the same to rebuild their homes,” said Workers Justice Project member Victoriano Hernandez.

The Bay Parkway Community Job Center, which was established in 2000 by the Workers Justice Project with help from local elected officials and community groups, serves as a one-stop-shopping facility for private contractors looking to hire per diem workers for such jobs as house painting, gardening, and construction. The workers, mostly immigrants from Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, and El Salvador, gather at the center early each morning and are brought together by intermediaries with contractors.

“Since it first opened in 2000, the Bay Parkway Community Job Center has been an important vehicle for immigrant day laborers to obtain employment with fair wages in safe environments. I am very pleased now in the wake of Hurricane Sandy to see this valuable job center reopened with a renewed vigor and a new energy to move forward.” said Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst).

“Every day we have from 15 to 30 workers maximum right now, and our goal is to recruit many more,” Guallpa said.

The immigrant workers have established a routine at the center, Guallpa said.

“The center opens early at 7 a.m. where 15 to 30 workers register on the attendance sheet. They put their name, skills, and phone number. Workers register as they come. The first two in list make coffee for everyone. The workers who register in the middle clean the center, while the last two buy the bread and gas. While they drink coffee together as family and wait for a homeowner and contractor drive up to the center, workers introduce the center to new members, discuss issues they have seen or experienced, discuss ways to do the health and safety outreach or market better the center for more jobs,” Guallpa said. 

“If a contractor comes to the center, the coordinator will meet with contractor to assess his needs, explain the wages established by the center, establish the fair working condition the worker will have to provided and ensure he is able to provide the right worker for the right job. After an agreement is met, the worker and contractor sign a contract where they both enter in an agreement for the work that benefit both of them. The contract get the skilled, honest, reliable labor he need for his project while the contract get paid fairly and with safer working conditions,” Guallpa said.  

“The reopening of the center will benefit the entire community that strives to recover from the devastation caused by Sandy,” said Nina Casillas, a Brooklyn homeowner.

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