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En Español: The Center for Worker Justice celebrates five years of service

Posted by Alejandro Pérez Belda | Dec 5, 2017 | Community/News

People gathered outside the UI Hospitals and Clinics, near the Children’s Hospital, on Dec. 15, 2016 to raise awareness of Silvia Williams’ case. — photo courtesy of the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa

Hacia una sociedad más justa

El pasado mes de noviembre el centro de justicia laboral celebró su quinto aniversario. Para conocer con más detalle su impacto en la comunidad entrevistamos a Rafael Morataya, director del centro. Morataya llegó a Iowa City después de haber liderado sindicatos en Colorado, Texas y Minnesota (donde estuvo por más de 10 años).

“Yo siempre he querido estar en un centro que luchara por el beneficio de los trabajadores, y dirigir [este] centro fue mi meta,” dijo Morataya.

De acuerdo a Morataya, los objetivos del centro en sus inicios se basaban en la necesidad de defender a la comunidad: líderes sudaneses y congoleños junto con grupos sindicales se agruparon para denunciar desigualdades sociales. El objetivo principal era (y todavía sigue siendo) denunciar el robo de salarios. Gracias a sus esfuerzos, más de $60.000 han sido recuperados por trabajadores cuyos derechos laborales habían sido vulnerados.

Uno de los casos más recientes nos lleva a la pasada primavera, cuando el gobierno estatal en Des Moines redujo el salario mínimo en cinco condados de Iowa por medio de la invalidación de las ordenanzas del condado. El centro vio una gran oportunidad para que la comunidad y los negocios pudieran ejercer su liderazgo, y por ahora, gracias a los esfuerzos del centro, 155 negocios en Johnson County ya se han comprometido a pagar a nuevos y antiguos trabajadores el salario mínimo de $10.10 aprobado hace dos años por el condado de Johnson.

“Cada obstáculo que existe es siempre una nueva oportunidad para organizar y mejorar a la comunidad,” dijo Morataya.

Otra meta del centro es mejorar la falta de vivienda accesible. Un buen ejemplo, nos cuenta Morataya, lo encontramos en Forest View Mobile Home Court, una urbanización planificada que requeriría que los residentes actuales tuvieran que mudarse: vecinos y representantes del centro se han sentado en la mesa de negociación junto con desarrolladores del plan de viviendas de la ciudad para mejorar las condiciones de mudanza de los residentes actuales.

Los estudiantes de la secundaria reciben talleres de concienciación sobre cuestiones sociales de la comunidad, incluyendo derechos laborales y derechos de vivienda, además de sesiones de apoyo y mediación sobre racismo y religión. Este último verano también se implementó un nuevo programa para fomentar el crecimiento personal y académico de los más jóvenes. El programa iba dirigido principalmente a aquellos niños que pueden estar sujetos a grandes cargas de estrés emocional debido al ambiente político que hace que familias musulmanas y otras familias inmigrantes sean blanco de intimidaciones.

“El centro busca que la comunidad entienda que todos sus miembros deben tener acceso a vivienda accesible, educación, transporte y salarios decentes,” dijo Morataya.

Otra medida exitosa surge a raíz de las dificultades que determinados grupos de la comunidad enfrentaban por carecer de un documento de identificación oficial. Así nació el ID comunitario, que este verano cumplió dos años.

Pero el éxito del centro, nos resalta Morataya, no puede entenderse sin el apoyo que recibe por diversos miembros de la comunidad, los cuales regalan su tiempo colaborando en el día a día del centro.

“Diferentes miembros de la comunidad participan activamente en diversos proyectos con la mera intención de hacer de esta una comunidad más justa para todos,” dijo Morataya.
Cierto es que nuestra comunidad no es perfecta; pero iniciativas como las del centro de justicia laboral — que seguirá tratando de crecer en el condado de Johnson — ayudan y promueven una vida más justa para todos sus miembros.

For a more just society

Translated by Angela Pico

This November the Center for Worker Justice celebrated its fifth anniversary. To further learn about its impact in the community we interviewed center director Rafael Morataya, who arrived in Iowa City after having led unions in Colorado, Texas and Minnesota (where he worked for more than 10 years).

“I had always wanted to be in a center that fought for the good of the workers, and directing [this] center was my goal,” Morataya said.

According to Morataya, in its beginnings, the center’s goals were based on the need to defend the community: Sudanese and Congolese leaders, along with members of unions, got together to denounce issues of social inequality. The main goal was (and still is) to denounce wage theft. Thanks to their efforts, workers whose labor rights had been infringed have received more than $60,000 for their losses.

One of the most recent incidents was this past spring, when the state government in Des Moines reduced the minimum wage in five Iowa counties by invalidating county ordinances. The center saw a great opportunity for the community and its businesses to show their leadership. Thanks to the center’s efforts, 155 Johnson County businesses have committed to pay current and new workers the minimum wage of $10.10 that had already been established two years ago by Johnson County.

“For every obstacle that we face there’s always a new opportunity to organize and improve the community,” Morataya said.

The center also aims to improve the lack of affordable housing. Morataya said, for instance, that in Forest View Mobile Home Court, which is the site of a planned development that would require residents to relocate, the neighborhood representatives have sat at the negotiation table with housing representatives from the city to improve the relocation conditions for current residents.

High school students also receive workshops on social justice awareness about issues in the community, including worker and housing rights, as well as support and mediation sessions about racism and religion. Last summer the center created a program for younger children to promote personal and academic growth. This program was particularly addressed to children who might be subjected to significant amounts of emotional stress due to the political environment targeting Muslim and immigrant families.

“The center’s goal is to make the community understand that all its members should have access to education, transportation, affordable housing and decent salaries,” Morataya said.

Another accomplishment arose from the hardship that certain individuals faced due to a lack of an official form of identification. This is how the community ID was born, which celebrated its second anniversary this past summer. But Morataya emphasizes that the center’s success could not be possible without the support of other community members who volunteer their time for the day-to-day operations of the center.

“Different community members participate actively in a variety of projects with the sole purpose of making a more equitable community,” Morataya said.

It’s true that our community is not perfect, but initiatives like the Center for Worker Justice — which will work to keep growing in Johnson County — help and promote a more just community for all.

Alejandro Pérez Belda is doing a Ph.D. program in foreign language and ESL education, and currently teaches Spanish at the University of Iowa and English at the Center for Worker Justice. Angela Pico is a writer in the Spanish MFA Creative Writing Program. She is also a painter and a salsa dancer. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 233.


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