Brazilian Worker Center

Fighting for Social and Economic Justice

Archive of Past Events

Report of Activities for 2013 and early 2014  

Report of Activities for 2013 and early 2014 nbsp
Continuing in the Direction of Organizational Renewal & Growing Effectiveness

The Brazilian Immigrant Center has reestablished itself as a reputable, engaged organization that represents, supports, and organizes the Brazilian and wider immigrant community to defend and advocate for their rights, as workers and immigrant residents of the state and nation. The current administration and board, an entirely new one since 2010, has been in place now for four years. Under the leadership of Natalicia Tracy as Executive Director, we continue as a strong women-led organization that serves both men and women in our community with a concern for fairness and justice, cultural competence, and compassion.

We are deeply grateful for the trust and the recognition that the community has extended to us, and to all that our funders have offered us that has done so much to make our work possible. Our funders provide a foundation for all the good work, and all the successes, that we have accomplished since BIC’s rebirth after 2010.

Dramatic Movement on Domestic Workers Rights Legislation
We do work at all levels: organizing, services, and policy work. Recently, after several years of grassroots organizing on immigrant and workers’ rights, we have engaged with several legislative campaigns to change and improve state laws on immigration and workers’ rights matters. Our engagement in these campaigns is the logical outgrowth of years of organizing at the grassroots level, and allows us to support our community’s becoming involved at the civic level with changing and improving the laws that affect them. These initiatives open up new areas of training, democratic engagement, and empowerment for immigrant workers, including the staff, board and members of BIC itself. We are in solidarity with our community in meeting these new challenges in bringing more social justice to the social spaces that we live and work in. This is very evident with our engagement with the movement for Domestic Workers rights.

After almost four years of organizing our Domestic Worker Bill of Rights (DWBoR) campaign is moving at a fast pace. In November 2014, a successful hearing was held before the legislature’s Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, widely covered in the media, and in March 2014, the Bill of Rights was voted favorably out of the Committee, and then came to a full vote on the floor of the House of Representatives, where it passed strongly with a vote of 123 in favor, and 24 against. The Bill now awaits Senate action, and Governor Patrick has promised to sign it, if it reaches his desk. We are now focused more and more on planning for implementation and monitoring, a complex process in which we and our allies in the Massachusetts Coalition for Domestic Workers will play a strong role. We will engage in long-term public educational work, using the electronic and print media, and our own community networks, to publicize the new protections offered by the law. We will work with the state over the first year to consult on the writing of regulations to implement the new rights domestic workers will gain.

In the meantime we continue building the domestic worker movement, and supporting the efforts of these workers to upgrade their professional skills, and to gain more social respect and workplace justice. We have continued with a range of programs to support these developments, including:

Training in Leadership and Civic Engagement for Domestic Workers. During the year we offered many innovative trainings for domestic workers and organizers, including workshops in organizing, legislative processes for moving a bill, story-telling, public speaking, field research skills, safety and health procedures, and domestic workers rights. In 2013 over 30 trainings of these different types took place either at BIC or in community settings around the state.

Domestic Worker Law & Policy Clinic. In support of the movement, BIC’s Domestic Worker Law and Policy Clinic has represented over 60 clients from many ethnic groups & reached over $100,000.00 in judgments, settlements and mediations for domestic workers.

Domestic Worker Law Manual. An innovative Domestic Worker Law Manual, the first in the US, was developed by BIC’s Domestic Worker Law and Policy Clinic, in partnership with the “Legal Skills in Social Context” program at Northeastern University Law School, and was published in 2012 in English, Portuguese, and Spanish versions, and will soon be put into a second edition to reflect the new laws we will soon have.

Domestic Worker-Employer Mediation Program. In partnership with the Community Dispute Settlement Center of Cambridge, this program has trained 32 workers and employers to form mediation panels to solve workplace disputes out of court, and still operates at BIC.

Gaining Statewide Labor Support for the DWBoR. BIC’s Executive Director Natalicia Tracy has traveled to all regions of Massachusetts and met with all 11 AFL-CIO central labor councils to seek, and has received, support from all for the currently pending Domestic Worker Bill of Rights legislation.

Domestic Worker Photography Project, “Domestic Workers: The Invisible Wheels that Empower Our Economy,” with documentary photographer Mario Quiroz, is an arts advocacy project supporting the Bill of Rights campaigns in Massachusetts and Connecticut. BIC initiated the project and has financed more than 90% of this traveling exhibit, and alone organized community celebrations – with workers, and local civic & community leaders -- in Lawrence, Burlington, Cambridge, Boston, Chelsea, Everett, Quincy, Somerville, and Framingham, as well as Hyannis, & New Haven.

Domestic Worker Hot Line. We have partnered with Studio REV, the National Domestic Worker Alliance (NDWA), and the NU-Law Lab at Northeastern University to develop a health & safety/workers’ rights Domestic Worker Hotline for learning about rights and how to seek support in problem work situations. We are excited to be supporting the creation of a new domestic worker mobile phone app with REV and NDWA.

OSHA Safety & Health Course & Video. In alliance with OSHA, we developed a two-hour job safety course for domestic workers, to begin in June 2014, and produced a 10-minute Portuguese-language job safety training video.

National level Organizing for Domestic Worker Rights. In 2012 in Washington, DC, BIC’s E.D. Natalicia Tracy, and our Community Domestic Worker Liaison Luci Morris, were elected as a team to be members of the Executive Board of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Natalicia is also on the national NDWA-SEIU Partnership Steering Committee. Natalicia is currently standing for another term in the upcoming board elections that will take place at the national NDWA convention in Washington in late April 2014.

Massachusetts attracts National Attention. Massachusetts is turning out to be a success story for domestic worker organizing, that is being noticed all over the country, and we will probably be the fourth state in the Union to pass a Bill of Rights, after New York (2010), Hawaii (2012), and California (2013). It took ten years or organizing and a half dozen legislative attempts for New York to pass their bill, and in California it required four attempts, and two gubernatorial vetoes. All indications are that Massachusetts will approve the Bill during the first legislative attempt. We believe the reason is the strong grassroots organizing campaign that was mounted by domestic workers here, with the support of partners, that resulted in an impressive 40% of the House, and almost 2/3 of the Senate signing on as co-sponsors of the Bill at the time it was first introduced in January 2013.

Coalition Work Increasingly Important
It has been obvious to us from the first moments of our renewal as an organization in 2010 that our work gains considerably more force when we partner and ally with other organizations -- community, immigrant, women’s, faith, and labor – who share missions and a social justice commitment with us. We gladly invest a great deal of staff time building and tending to our partnerships, coalitions, and alliances, and we have a pattern of working across ethnic lines, and also of sharing resources with other groups. This is not always easy to do in an environment where the funding environment can promote competition, and where organizations routinely claim credit for initiatives and achievements which they were able to reach only with the help of others. We believe it is still better to err on the side of alliance-building, wherever possible, even when we are sometimes treated unfairly and not credited for the contributions we make.

Very important organizational partners to us in recent years have been Centro Presente, the Dominican Development Center, Boston New Sanctuary Movement, the Brazilian Women’s Group, Justice at Work, Greater Boston Legal Services, Lawrence Community Connections, WILD, and the Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers. We have shared resources with all these groups, and collaborated on many projects. Our Executive Director Natalicia Tracy has a strong track record of collaboration with Latino organizations, in particular. BIC has always served a partly Latino group of constituents, has Latinos and other Spanish-speakers on our staff and board, and offers training and television programming in Spanish, as well as Portuguese.

We are active members or leaders in many local and state coalitions, including the Massachusetts Coalition for Domestic Workers (co-founder, fiscal agent from the beginning, member of executive committee); Jobs with Justice (our E.D. is Treasurer on their board); the Immigrant Worker Center Collaborative; the Fair Wage Committee; Community-Labor United; as well as national ones like the National Association of Latin American & Caribbean Communities (NALACC), and the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA, where our E.D. is a board member).

In 2013, we did a great deal of outreach and gave talks, panels, or workshops in many kinds of settings: to churches (over 20) throughout eastern Massachusetts; at the Lawrence “Bread and Roses” festival; at the Merrimack Valley Project in Lowell; at Communidades de Justicia in Springfield; at all 11 state Central Labor Councils; at public libraries in Lawrence, Quincy, Somerville, Cambridge, Boston, Everett, Burlington, Chelsea, Boston, and Framingham; at the Women’s 2013 Institute for Leadership Development Summer Institute at UMass Amherst, where we taught four workshops; three trainings on research methods for participatory action researchers from the community, at UMass Boston, and Everett’s St. Anthony’s Church; and, three trainings on civic engagement and legislative processes at UMass Boston. These and others not mentioned here all served to recruit and organize workers and other community members, and engage them in knowledge and skills they can and do put to use in the movements for social justice in which we are involved.

Workers’ Rights: BIC Becomes a National Resource for OSHA Safety and Health Training
In OSHA safety and health training of construction workers, we are becoming more active at the New England regional and the national levels. Our funded programs in OSHA training during from 2011-2013 required three visits a year by staff and workers to US Department of Labor gatherings in Washington, DC, and gave much visibility to our models for culturally appropriate training in OSHA health and safety for Brazilians, and we are one of the few community-based non profits in the country, and the only Portuguese speaking one, that does such training. Increasingly our expertise continues to be called upon by the OSHA national office, and training centers in other states, such as Pennsylvania and Texas, where Portuguese speakers are concerned.

While we have stayed active in safety and health training this year, through our own resources, and through an MOU with the Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers who use our training classes for HIV/AIDS testing and education, we do not have funding this year from OSHA itself to support training. We plan on renewing this funding for the federal fiscal year beginning October 1, 2014, and are extremely well positioned to do so. Our trainings for domestic workers for their two-hour safety course will be done under our own resources, and through the Massachusetts Coalition for Domestic Workers.

We have begun to deepen our collaborations with the Region One administration of OSHA (covering all New England), in keeping with our ten-year MOUs of cooperation, which we renewed in 2011, and did once again in December 2013. This collaboration does not only result in joint workshops and training with OSHA staff throughout the region, but is now yielding the first domestic worker health and safety course ever, soon to be offered, and a 15-minute original Portuguese-language film about OSHA directed at domestic, restaurant, and construction workers, scripted by BIC personnel and acted by local Brazilian domestic and construction workers as actors. The film had a public screening in December 2013, and will soon be played on a regular basis in the waiting room at the Brazilian Consulate in Boston. This venue that offers access to so many New England Brazilians was made possible due to an MOU between the Consulate and OSHA Region One that BIC facilitated in 2011, and is currently renewing once again.

Immigrant Rights and the “Act Relative to Safe Driving”
BIC’s legal work, especially in our Immigrant Justice clinic, and the efforts of many of our pro-bono immigration attorneys, very frequently involve defending our constituents who are charged with driving without a license. Undocumented people, of course, currently are not entitled to drivers’ licenses in Massachusetts, even though they must drive their cars to work and to church, to go shopping, and to take their usually US citizen children to school and the doctor. Detentions often result from chance traffic stops, and the subsequent deportations typically tear families apart. Eleven other states – including Connecticut and Vermont here in New England - have recently passed bills allowing licenses for all qualified drivers, regardless of immigration status.

In July 2012, BIC began organizing and hosting community meetings to build support for a new drivers’ license bill here in Massachusetts, and we were successful in gaining support for this initiative – the Safe Driving Act -- from many allied organizations, including the American Friends Service Committee, the Boston New Sanctuary Movement, the Student Immigrant Movement, MIRA, the Immigrant Worker Center Collaborative, Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers, Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce, and the Centro do Trabalhador. The Safe Driving Act was also introduced as new legislation in January 2013, and its campaign is being led by BIC and MIRA. It has been a vigorous campaign, and two hearings have taken place, and as of April 2014 the Bill is still alive in the Transportation Committee on Beacon Hill. Our Immigrant Justice Project attorney has been an important resource to the campaign this year, and our ED Natalicia Tracy has been one of the key spokespeople for it, including on television appearances.

The campaign and the prospect of being able to drive legally are exciting to members of our community. An unprecedented almost 600 immigrants appeared for the last hearing on the Bill in February 2014. For the undocumented who are denied the opportunity to drive licensed, nothing creates more anxiety than the threat of detention, deportation, and family fracturing that is most likely to happen in Massachusetts, as in other states, from routine traffic stops by state and local police.

Continuing Progress on our Core Workers’ Rights Program
BIC staff, board and volunteers continued to engage with core programs and initiatives that have allowed us to further our mission, and to rejuvenate the organization to what it is today. On December 13, 2013, the US Dept. of Labor Wage & Hour Division reported that our 21 case referrals to them since 2010 had resulted in settlements for 632 employees, amounting to $1,985,594. With our partner, Justice at Work, seven board and staff were trained in representing workers in Small Claims court as a new venue to pursue wage theft restitution, and 47 cases, brought and resolved. This is a groundbreaking legal strategy for winning restitution of stolen wages for workers, dramatically reducing the time from 1 to 2 years to a few months. Our Domestic Worker Law & Policy Clinic has taken 20 domestic worker cases to court, and 12 cases to mediation. We are in our 2nd year of a new ESOL program, funded by English for New Bostonians, with a social justice curriculum focused on workers’, immigrant, and tenants’ rights, and our third year of workplace health & safety courses in Fall Protection for Residential Construction. All these programs continue to be a support to our central workers’ rights project, as does all our domestic worker organizing discussed above.

updated: 5 years ago