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Fast for the forgotten: Essential workers in Manhattan continue hunger strike for share of COVID relief

Rubiela Correa is an essential worker who has been on hunger strike since March 16th.
Photo by Dean Moses

Essential workers in New York City are starving for their fair share.  

Employees ranging from those in the medical field and food industry to clerks and cleaners, these individuals were the city’s beacon of hope during its darkest hours. Despite their sacrifices, not all essential workers seem to have been created equally in the eyes of the government.

According to the Fund Excluded Workers Coalition, many immigrant and undocumented workers — who were key components in putting New York back on the road to recovery — did not receive any financial relief due to their immigration status. In response to this over, over 85 neglected workers have been undergoing a hunger strike in hopes of receiving $3.5 billion in aid, which they believe to be on par with what others have received so far.

Currently, the state Senate and Assembly have created a one-house budget that includes $2.1 billion in funding for excluded workers, but strikers say this is not enough.

About 85 individuals are participating in a hunger strike to push elected officials to include $3.5 billion in COVID relief aid for essential workers who did not receive any government help. Photo by Dean Moses

“Fast for the Forgotten” is a hunger strike to push elected officials to increase aid for essential workers who have received nothing during the pandemic. They are demanding that the amount of aid be increased by the next New York State budget deadline on April 1.

amNew York Metro visited the strikers on March 20, which marked their fifth day without food.  Initially, they had started their demonstration outside the Church of the Ascension on 10th Street and 5th Avenue. The group then moved to Judson Memorial Church at 55 Washington Square South on March 19, which has now become their permanent camp.

Bundled up in blankets and rubbing their hands together, the morale amongst the group remained steadfast, thanks, in most part, to the support they are giving one another. Although almost a week of fasting had clearly taken its toll, many in the encampment sang songs and joked with one another but beneath the veneer of joy, their faces told a story of desperation.

Rubiela Correa had tears in her eyes as she told amNewYork Metro of her struggles, not only during the fast, but also over the past year.

Before the pandemic hit, Correa made her living as a house cleaner and caregiver to both adults and children. However, once New York City shut down last March, she lost her job since her employers feared exposure due to Correa taking mass public transportation.

Correa, an undocumented immigrant, has been living in the United States for over nine years and works to support her family. She says she pays her taxes and works hard to make a life for herself and her son; however, while others have received COVID-19 relief aid, Correa has been left with no assistance.

Strikers bang pots. Photo by Dean Moses

“We are participating in this strike as workers because we haven’t received any sort of support. Not one dollar. Nothing,” Correa told amNewYork Metro, through a translator.

She recalled struggling to make ends meet while a friend of hers, who is documented, was able to receive help with their rent and food.

“He is getting a lot of money each week and I am receiving nothing. I am also a human being,” Correra said.

She joins about 85 others in the “Fast for the Forgotten” each one working as an integral part to keep the city running. 

“I am 100% convince that we are going to win. They can’t just let us starve. They can’t just let us die here. I’m prepared to strike for five days and I’m prepared to strike for five months,” Correra said, pushing through the hunger to showcase her high spirits and energy, which are all fueled by the cause.

Bianca Guerrero, the campaign coordinator of the Fund Excluded Workers Coalition, is amazed and driven by the passion embedded within the strikers. She has helped plan and coordinate the strike in New York City as well as in Westchester County. Her motivation to be a part of this movement is simple, she empathizes with their struggle.

“These workers know that they do just as much and pay just as much taxes as everybody else in New York. They won’t settle for anything less than what everyone has been receiving,” Guerrero said, adding, “I’m driven by their motivations and their determination to get what they deserve. We gotta make sure these workers do not get left behind.”

Guerrero’s grandmother was from the Dominican Republic, making her living like many of these essential workers, babysitting and caring for children. If the pandemic occurred when Guerrero’s grandmother was working, Guerrero believes she too would not be able to survive the devastation left behind by the coronavirus.

Bundeld up in blankets the strikers try and keep morale high. Photo by Dean Moses

“They are not doing this because they want a vacation. They are doing this because they need basic necessities,” Guerrero said, explaining that many of them pay their taxes and yet are still being left behind in aid. “It makes them feel invisible,” she said.

Ana Ramírez, a New York Communities for Change member, has spent months fighting for the voice of essential workers to be heard. Even while being on a hunger strike for over 110 hours, she pushed the need to eat aside and joined a rally in Washington Square Park on Saturday, demanding that Governor Cuomo provide aid for essential workers.  

She lost her job last year as a restaurant employee and has not received any COVID relief like thousands of other immigrant workers.

“I want to let everyone know that this government’s lack of care and lack of empathy. This governor in this most important city in the world has discriminated and undervalued our work, our jobs,” Ramírez said. “We want justice! We want to be able to work with dignity so that we can thrive in this country. It’s not just me, behind me I represent thousands of families. I am an excluded worker.”

Ramírez, Correra, and countless others are prepared to starve themselves to receive their fair share in government relief.

“You should all know that my hunger strike is just the beginning because if you want to see me die of hunger, you will see that,” Ramírez declared.

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