Eastern Service Workers Association: The Hands and Feet of the People

by Ijeoma Unachukwu

There’s always something anybody can do. Old, young, shy or outgoing. We just need people.

In New Brunswick, a 67-year-old woman named Rosella has been operating the same heavy machinery at a warehouse factory for the past 30 years. Essentially, Rosella makes $8.25/ hour without employee benefits such as Healthcare and Dental care. Consequently, she hasn’t had a doctor’s appointment for 30 years and for the past 5 years, Rosella has been having acute pain in her eyes. Despite this, Rosella has been forced to work, as she is the sole provider of her family.

In her community, there is a free health clinic; unfortunately, the clinic lacks optical services, so they referred her to a hospital in Newark. To see the doctor, Rosella had to miss two days of work, pay for expensive train tickets and a hundred-dollar consultation fee. She has been diagnosed with cataracts and since then, has been losing vision in her left eye. She cannot afford to miss any days of work for surgery to correct the vision in her left eye.

Rosella commutes to work everyday, working 12 hour shifts at a hospital although her sight makes it near impossible to do so. For Rosella, the options are limited.

Unfortunately, this case is not unheard of. In the heart of New Brunswick, away from the pristine Rutgers University campus, we bear witness to poverty and turmoil. The underserved population works minimum wage service jobs that are appealing for college students, but crippling for those supporting a family. That’s where Eastern Service Workers comes in.

Eastern Service Workers Association (ESWA) is a volunteer independent organizing drive that serves the lowest paid workers in Central Jersey. That includes hospital, fast food, retail workers and home care providers. A very high percentage of these people work in production and warehousing jobs through temporary work agencies that rarely pay over $10/ hour.

ESWA provides for them an 11-point benefit program as a way to work together to stabilize their lives. The benefits include: food, clothing, preventative healthcare, and legal counsel.

Michael Clark, the director of the volunteer organization, said that ESWA was started out of necessity when government budget cuts shut down previously-established government-funded volunteer programs.

“This left the residents of New Brunswick disillusioned, angry, and without any help. That was a problem,” said Clark.

Clark also said the issue was mitigated as well because a lot of the higher paying production jobs were beginning to leave the area. The issue gained public attention when Rutgers students and professors were affected by the issue, and thus, ESWA was born. ESWA is more than just a labor organization, it is a movement, a support group. It is an extended network, an extended family within the community. ESWA also provides classes in basic grassroots organizing skills and classes in how to be an effective volunteer. They provide volunteers with the opportunity to learn how to build medical and dental clinics as well as lead door to door membership canvases.

As Clark phrased it, “There’s always something anybody can do. Old, young, shy or outgoing. We just need people.”

(Photo by Bobby Bank/GC Images)

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