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Port Chester Man Helps Protect Day Laborers' Rights

Gonzalo Cruz of Don Bosco Workers makes sure that day laborers from Port Chester and surrounding communities are treated fairly by their employers.
Gonzalo Cruz of Don Bosco Workers makes sure that day laborers from Port Chester and surrounding communities are treated fairly by their employers. Photo Credit: Casey Donahue

PORT CHESTER, N.Y. -- For many of the day laborers who line up outside Port Chester's Don Bosco Center every day hoping to find work, Gonzalo Cruz is the only one working to make sure that they get paid and are treated fairly.

Cruz is the only paid employee of Don Bosco Workers, a day laborer advocacy organization. It is his job to coordinate between the workers and companies looking to hire them. It can be tricky sometimes, as employers might try to shortchange the workers out of money they are owed.

"A lot of people will come and they'll go to work for a restaurant or a construction company, and the employer won't pay because of their status," Cruz said. "They'll work a whole week, and the company won't pay."

Don Bosco Workers was granted nonprofit status this summer, allowing them to raise funds to further their cause of helping day laborers. The organization is a member of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network , and also works closely with Caritas of Port Chester , an organization that helps feed and clothe workers in the community.

"I help provide training to people so they can say, 'I have rights,'" Cruz said.

Before someone goes out on a job, Cruz keeps a record detailing where they are going and how long they will be working. He also says it's important for them to keep a record of any letters, business cards, addresses and checks. This will help them with their case should they need to file a complaint with the Department of Labor or a small claims court.

When somebody doesn't get paid or isn't paid the full amount, they often don't do anything about it. "They're scared," Cruz said. Many are worried that if they try to complain, then the Immigration and Naturalization Service will get called and they will get in trouble. Others are worried that if they bring someone to small claims court, they could lose out on two to three days that they could spend working.

Cruz will often try to speak with employers who don't pay, telling them that they are required by law to compensate their workers. If that doesn't work, he helps the workers file complaints and prepare their cases to present to a judge. He is currently working on 19 cases, totaling more than $63,000 that has not been paid to workers.