On International Women’s Day Monday, protesters rallied at the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire site, demanding an end to 24-hour workdays that thousands of homecare workers have been enduring in New York throughout the COVID-19 pandemic through the “Ain’t I a Woman” campaign.
Exemplifying exhaustive working conditions, protesters assembled at 25 Washington Place on Monday afternoon, in the shadow of the site of the infamous 1911 fire where unsafe, sweatshop working conditions led to the death of 146 garment workers.
Speakers cited the deadly 1911 blaze as an example of abused workers who lost their lives due to the negligence of an unsympathetic boss — something they say is symbolic of the current scandal Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing.
Backed by chants of “No more 24” and a sea of protest signs, workers’ rights advocates climbed onto a makeshift stage where they denounced the Governor on behalf of the recent accusations and his handling of overburdened essential workers.
Christopher Marte, a New York City Council candidate for District 1, shared that he attended the rally in honor of his mother, who works as a home attendant in the Bronx. He recalls not seeing his mother for days on end, which he says induces emotional trauma on both the worker and families.
“What does our governor tell [the homecare workers]? That they are not essential workers. That they have to be enslaved by these agencies who use their bodies for profit. We have two bills in our state senate, and if we pass them, we bring justice to humans, but our Governor continues to ignore us. As these allegations come about and what his actions have been in his office, it’s nothing new to people here! He has been abusing workers and women for decades,” Marte said.
Over one hundred, multiracial New Yorkers gathered in the street and sidewalk to make their voices heard and stand in solidarity with the female homecare workers — many of them immigrants and women of color — who have been putting their lives at risk working long hours caring for the elderly, disabled, and severely ill. The pandemic has exacerbated their struggle and isolated them during a time when they had to leave the safety of their families in order to return to work.
Many speakers pushed for elected officials to support legislation that will require those who work 24-hour jobs to be able to have non-sequential split shifts. Protesters shared that these homecare workers are given two choices, work the 24-hour shift or do not have a job.
In addition, only the 13 hours of the 24-hour shift is paid. The bill, S359A/A3145A, is sponsored by Assembly member Harvey Epstein, Senator Roxanne Persaud, and co-sponsored by other elected officials. One bill is being reviewed in the Senate and the other in the House.
“On this beautiful International Women’s Day, we come to honor our sisters, our special group of sisters who give from themselves to the most vulnerable section of New York. Their patients, elderly need their care 24-hours a day. They feed them, they bathe them, they take temperatures, they check oxygen. They do whatever they have to do in a caring loving way for our most vulnerable,” said Bob Angles of the Democratic Socialists DSA.
Angels looked around the crowd and stated that many homecare workers are doing 24-hour shifts without breaks, and in addition to the mental and physical stress of caring for a vulnerable person, they are not even being paid an adequate amount of money to do so.
“This is inhumane and shameful,” Angels said.
The “Ain’t I a Woman” campaign included Chinese Staff and Workers Association, Disability Education and Advocacy Network of WNY, Flushing Workers Center, and others.