After 15 years working in a factory, Wilbur* was fired from his job as a machine operator after getting into a verbal dispute with a co-worker. His supervisor offered him an opportunity to explain what happened to the English-speaking factory owner, but since Wilbur only speaks Spanish, he could not defend himself and had no choice but to leave his job.
Wilbur was out of work for four months after losing his job, which caused great financial strain for his family. During that time, he contacted the New York State Department of Labor to apply for Unemployment Insurance. Again, language proved to be a barrier for Wilbur: the Department of Labor does not have many Spanish-speaking employees, so oftentimes no one was available to assist him when he called. Ultimately, Wilbur’s application for Unemployment Insurance was denied.
After learning about his situation, Wilbur’s friends at Centro Hispano Cuzcatlán encouraged him to call Línea Laboral, the free bilingual workers’ rights hotline operated by Catholic Migration Services. When he called Línea Laboral, Wilbur was relieved to hear Evelyn, the hotline operator, greet him in Spanish. “The employees of Línea Laboral were the first people to help me in Spanish,” he says. Línea Laboral’s attorney, Maureen Hussain, represented Wilbur at his Unemployment Insurance hearing and, ultimately, Wilbur finally received the Unemployment Insurance money he was owed all along.
Since winning his case, Wilbur would encourage other workers in similar situations to seek help from Línea Laboral, as his friends at Centro Hispano Cuzcatlán encouraged him. “Línea Laboral did a magnificent job,” Wilbur says. “After this experience, I won’t be afraid to stand up for my rights.”
Línea Laboral, a collaboration between Catholic Migration Services, the U.S. and New York State Departments of Labor, the NYC Office of the Comptroller, and the consulates of Mexico, Guatemala, Chile, El Salvador, and Honduras, has helped to recover hundreds of thousands of dollars owed to immigrant workers. However, there are still many workers who are either unaware of their rights or are afraid to make a complaint for fear of getting fired or reported to immigration authorities. One of the goals of Línea Laboral is to empower all people—regardless of ethnic background or immigration status—to stand up for their workplace rights. All workers—especially immigrants living in the tri-state area—are invited to call Línea Laboral at 877-52-LABOR (877-525-2267) to learn more about their rights, ask questions, coordinate an outreach event in their community, or receive assistance filing a workplace complaint.
*Name changed to protect the privacy of the worker