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Immigrant rights organization celebrates 8th annual gala fundraiser

<p>"¡Ya es hora!", which translates to 'this is now', celebrated members of the organization helping to represent NJ's immigrant workers.</p>

"¡Ya es hora!", which translates to 'this is now', celebrated members of the organization helping to represent NJ's immigrant workers.

On Saturday, more than 100 people joined the alternative worker organization New Labor for its eighth-annual gala fundraiser at Rutgers. 

The gala, "¡Ya es hora!" — which focused on raising money for the organization’s 2018 goals — honored a handful of activists that have helped New Labor create change in the community. 

New Labor focuses on combining new and old strategies to improve working conditions for immigrant workers throughout New Jersey, according to the website. The organization advocates for human immigration reform and has held meetings with members of Congress. 

Carmen Martino, co-founder of the organization and an assistant professor in the School of Management and Labor Relations, said the gala was started eight years ago in celebration of the organization's 10-year anniversary and to honor its contributors and workers. New Labor has two locations and more than 2,000 members who pay dues. As an organization, it has helped workers win thousands of dollars in wage disputes and back pay.

“New labor was started as an alternative model of union organization. We wanted to be a new kind of union. And along the way, what we were doing, came to be defined in fact by Janice Fine ... as a ‘worker’s center.' We are a new kind of union," Martino said.

Many of New Labor's workers are domestic, low wage and foreign workers. It has helped thousands of people file working condition complaints and has organized many events that push for better policies. 

Trays of food, refreshments and a large customized cake, were enjoyed by guests who listened to speakers describe their experiences helping workers. The speakers also discussed how the organization has grown and impacted the community. 

Entertainment for the evening included a children's dance troupe who performed the famous "Jarabe Tapatio" dance and the Solidarity Singers, a progressive musical group devoted to promoting the rights of workers through singing and dancing. The event lasted from 6 to 9:30 p.m.

Solidarity Singers has attended the gala every year since its inception to serenade guests with pro-labor renditions of songs like “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The two-dozen-strong group is affiliated with the New Jersey State Industrial Union Council (NJIUC), a New Jersey federation of unions that try to promote workers' rights and pass pro-labor legislation.

This year, New Labor honored Janice Fine, an associate professor of Labor Studies and Employment Relations at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations. She has been working closely with the organization since 2005, and this is the first time she has been honored by them. 

“New Labor is often the first stop for immigrants who are new to this country who arrive here to work and live in this community,” Fine said. “New Labor helps them learn about their rights (and) improve their English, but also it's a community. It's like a clubhouse — a place for people to not feel so alone and (learn) how to fight back and organize to defend their rights.”

Fine said the new political climate has created a sense of fear for immigrants in the face of an extremely hostile administration and federal government. New Labor helps people overcome their fears and take a step in the right direction for standing up for their rights.

Dulce Vanessa Gomez, a finance and political science major at Kean University, received a recognition award for her efforts as an English as a Second Language (ESL) facilitator and volunteer. She has spent a lot of time with low-wage laborers and knows the struggles and injustices they face everyday.

New Labor’s membership is made of primarily temporary and domestic workers, as well as day laborers in New Brunswick, Lakewood and Newark, Martino said. They are typically very mobile workers in low-wage jobs that are harder to organize, define and protect. 

“New labor plays an important role in the labor movement because they educate all the members of their rights as laborers regardless of their status in the country, as well as reminding the members that they are not machines" Gomez said. " ... they are humans that deserve dignity and respect.”

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