LOS ANGELES - America's unions are going to bat for foreign workers who toil in America, in conditions that approximate slavery. And Dwight Allen, a 41-year-old "guest worker" laboring in Florida apartment buildings says he is sure glad they have.
Allen sat down for an interview here Sept. 10 during the 2013 AFL-CIO convention.
"I'm so glad that we decided to stand up and actually go out on strike," he said as he took a break from working the convention floor here with fellow members of the National Guestworker Alliance.
"The economy in Jamaica is not like it used to be," he said, in an exclusive interview with the People's World. "As a bartender I couldn't make the money I needed to support my wife and four children so I went to an agency that said it would place me in a good paying job, cleaning hotels in Florida - a job they said would pay $8.25 an hour.
"I was interviewed by both the agency and by a rep from the cleaning company itself, Mr. Clean. When I got to America the first promise they broke was where I would work. They sent me to clean condos, not a hotel."
Allen said it cost him almost $2,000 to get the job - $1,400 upfront to the agency in Jamaica and then the cost of the plane fare to Florida.
The second shock came when he was shown the "modern, up to date apartment" he was promised. He was brought to a two-bedroom apartment in the condo building he had to clean where he had to share the place with 13 other guest workers. Each of them had to pay $375 per month to live with 13 others in two unfurnished rooms. Everyone slept on the floor and shared one bathroom.
The cleaning company, in addition to charging rent, charged for absolutely everything else, deducting the amounts before issuing the paychecks. They were charged $70 per week for "uniforms," which consisted of two t-shirts. They were billed for transportation, electricity, use of the washing machine and dryer, water, and air conditioning. "And the most incredible thing was when we received our first paychecks," he said. "Printed clearly on the face of them: $0.00."
Deciding that they had no choice but to fight, they called the National Guestworker Alliance to ask for help. "What could we do? Our families are still waiting back home for the financial help they need to stay alive, and we are not being paid."
NGA helped the workers at Mr. Clean go out on strike and tapped into its newly formed connections with the AFL-CIO and others to get the workers the help they need to survive during their strike.
"Mr. Clean has threatened to call in the sheriff, the local police, and ICE," Allen said, "But with all the support we have now, we are not afraid. We will fight for what is just."
Many of the workers here at the AFL-CIO convention have not, until now, had the opportunity to examine the struggles guest workers face.
The NGA is seated right on the convention floor with many other non-traditional worker rights groups. "This is wonderful," said Allen. "It is great to see all this support and to share with American workers all the similar concerns we all have."
Video by Rossana Cambron, edited by Eli Halbreich.