Immigrants And Refugees
Immigrants and Refugees

Ignacia Gonzalez: Went on hunger strike for workers rights in the Excluded Workers Fund

Ignacia Gonzalez. Credit: Catholic Charities New York

The Excluded Workers Fund is a lifeline for many immigrants across New York State who were left out of state and federal pandemic financial assistance, even as they risked their lives and health to be on the front lines during COVID-19. Through the Catholic Charities Community Services Yonkers office Obreros Unidos and Mujeres en Accion groups (the Day Laborer Program and the women’s program), workers fought for this fund for months, participating in marches, protests, and even a hunger strike and they are now the recipients of the fund they fought so hard to pass.

Ignacia Gonzalez, a Mujeres en Accion member, and resident of Yonkers for over 18 years was one of those hunger strikers. “It was my first time doing something like this,” she said. “But I knew I had to do it. If I didn’t do it, who would do it for me? I would do it again if I had to.” With the support of her family and community, she participated for two days in the White Plains Presbyterian Church in a final push to get the Fund approved by the state.

Janet Hernandez, Day Laborer Organizer in Yonkers, encouraged her to get involved in the marches and actions that took place across Westchester. Ignacia was afraid at first, as people warned her it might affect her negatively in the future. But she knew that she had to channel her fear, desperation, and uncertainty from the pandemic and channel it into raising up her voice and the voice of her immigrant community. “Immigrants are essential; my voice counts and is important! I knew I couldn’t be afraid.”

Her hard work, and the work of her fellow advocates, paid off. Once the fund was approved, she applied right away. As a house cleaner, she lost work for many months as did her husband, a painter. Her family struggled to pay rent, food, and internet costs, which was vital for her three children to continue to their remote learning. While the application process was not very difficult, her employers were reluctant to write her a letter to support her employment history. She had to submit alternate paperwork and was able to get approved in two short weeks.

“What I want people to know is that we deserve this money – they are not giving it to us as a gift. We immigrants are worth a lot and we have rights. This is our opportunity to get what we deserve,” Ignacia said.

Catholic Charities Community Services is proud to have assisted over 250 people within the Archdiocese apply for this fund to date.