Reality of our Rights
When asked about the rights they had, some workers responded that they had the right to a lunch or 15-minute break. Unfortunately breaks, vacation and lunchtime are benefits provided by the employer - not rights ensured by federal or state labor agencies. The Heartland Workers Center (HWC) gave workers rights presentations to parent groups at two local elementary schools, discussing their right to a safe and healthy workplace and the right to get paid.
When talking about health and safety, the HWC explained the nine rights all workers have under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Many were shocked to know they had so many rights from one federal agency and immediately began asking questions and sharing their own stories.
As the HWC began talking about workers’ health when working with chemicals, Maria, a parent, shared an experience she had. As she was cleaning a bathroom with bleach, she started feeling sick and woozy. If she had known the dangers of working with chemicals in an unventilated space, she would have acted differently.
One of the biggest problems we heard from the parents is, not knowing where to go for help or feeling like they do not have time to seek answers. Other issues mentioned were the language barrier - not knowing if anyone speaks Spanish - or if the services offered by these agencies was free or if there was a cost associated with them. But the only way to find out is by asking.
As we work to better inform the community about their rights as workers, the HWC will continue to offer trainings, presentations, and speaking with parents and workers about their experiences and how they related to the rights they have and their employers’ responsibilities.