The consequences of welfare "reform:"
From affidavits given this summer by plaintiffs in Capers v. Giuliani, a class-action suit filed by the New York Legal Assistance Group, the Welfare Law Center, and the National Employment Law Project on behalf of New York City workfare participants assigned to the departments of Sanitation and Transportation. In February 1995, the Giuliani Administration dramatically expanded the program under which the city's welfare recipients are required to work for their benefits. The workfare participants named as plaintiffs in Capers v. Giuliani testified that they experienced hazardous working conditions on a daily basis, including limited or no access to protective clothing, toilets, and drinking water; in August, a State Supreme Court justice ruled that the city was obligated to provide the 5,000 workfare participants assigned to the departments of Sanitation and Transportation with these necessities. City officials are appealing the ruling.
Omar Torres, age thirty-eight
I never received an orientation or any type of preparation before beginning my WEP assignment in June of 1995. Not once on the job have I been advised what type of clothing to wear. Once I was assigned to clean graffiti off of a fleet of fifty garbage trucks. I was never provided with goggles, though I used heavy equipment to spray graffiti cleaner onto the garbage trucks. I have scars on my legs where I was burned by splashing graffiti-cleaning fluid.
Before beginning any particular job for the day, the supervisors distribute the orange safety vests that WEP workers are required to wear. The vests at the garage where I am based are kept in a cat-litter box on the floor. I am not allowed to take the vest home to clean it, nor am I allowed to keep one for my individual use.
I cannot take my lunch to work, because there is nowhere to store it. I am not allowed to keep any belongings, including food, at the garage. I cannot carry it with me while I am cleaning the streets, because there is no clean place to keep it. Some people tie their lunch to their garbage barrel handle.
My supervisor refuses to listen to my problems. When I verbally challenge his opinions about working conditions, he threatens to terminate me. I am very frustrated by the unjust way I am treated. The supervisors are like overseers on a plantation. They constantly threaten the WEP workers with sanctions and termination. They try to brainwash you into thinking that no lawyer can help you, and tell us not to talk to them. Daily I have to think about whether a store will let me use the bathroom. It is constant stress. I feel like we are treated as if we were not human beings. I should not have to go through this just to work.
"Welfare As They Know It," Harper's
, 24-29 (Nov. 1997).
-Ziggy Stardust 14:28 EST |