Essential Services for Essential Workers During the Pandemic – Los Angeles Sentinel | Los Angeles Sentinel

Michael Nobleza, Executive Member, FUSE Corps, LA County Office of Immigration Affairs; Monica Nguyen, Program Director, GAIN, LA County Department of Public Human Services; Rose Basmadzhyan, Chief, Wage Enforcement Program and Investigations Division, LA County Consumer and Business Department; Yvonne Medrano, Program Counsel, Employee Rights Program, Bet Tzedek Legal Services (photo courtesy)

In a time of COVID-enforced lockdowns, if you work, you are essential. In Los Angeles County, no one should allow an employer to steal their pay or force them to work in unsafe conditions. But immigrant workers, with or without papers, are particularly vulnerable to such exploitation.

Three county officials and an attorney described a series of programs aimed at protecting workers during a Dec. 14 teleconference for ethnic media.

A third of Angelenos are immigrants, noted Michael Nobleza, FUSE Corps Executive Advisor for the Office of Immigration Affairs (, but immigrants make up 40-60% of the workforce. essential workers – janitors, delivery drivers, warehouse, restaurant and health care workers – “on the front lines of the pandemic, putting themselves at risk so that we can stay home safely”.

These workers are also the most likely to face challenges in staying healthy, due to working conditions where it is difficult to maintain safe physical distancing and use personal protective equipment, and sometimes living close to workers, highways and industrial plants presenting similar difficulties.

For many, he said, “physical health and well-being come after economic health.”

Undocumented workers are ineligible for most state and federal assistance programs, and the federal CARES Act disqualifies entire households for assistance if a single person is undocumented, removing 1.125 million Angeleno citizens or holders of green cards, Nobleza said.

The OIA has hosted webinars on voting, worker rights, workplace safety, eviction defense and foreclosure prevention strategies (archived at worker-rights-webinar-resources/, including Spanish presentations, as well as on the OIA Facebook page: and hosted an event with Univision LA this year to addressing “How to Keep the American Dream Alive” for DACA recipients.

In early February 2021, as part of its new LA Immigrant Essential Workers initiative, the OIA will host a two-day summit “focused on day labourers, domestic workers and DACA recipients entering the workforce” to propose reforms legislative and connect essential workers to “enveloping” services.

Rose Basmadzhyan, Head of the Wage Enforcement Program and Investigations Division at the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Affairs, investigates minimum wage and unpaid wages issues, overtime issues, shift differentials intervals, adequate lunch breaks and more.

“A lot of times workers are afraid to come forward,” she said. “We are happy to tip anonymously or from a third party. We understand the vulnerability, the fear of retaliation or adverse action. We have tools to enable us to address this, from hefty fines to reinstatement.

The office can be reached at 800 593-8222 and

So far, she said, 1,500 employees have received their owed wages and the county has collected $1.3 million in fines and back wages.

“When we receive a complaint,” she said, “we investigate the entire company, because when a problem exists with one employee, the problem will exist with others.”

Statewide, the minimum wage increases by $1 an hour on Jan. 1, to $13 for businesses with 25 or fewer employees and $14 for larger ones. But in LA County, it’s already $14.25 for small businesses and $15 for large ones.

Monica Nguyen, director of GAIN (Greater Avenues for Independence), described her program, run under the auspices of the nation’s largest public social service agency, the County Department of Public Social Services, which helps more than 3.5 million people, in 19 languages.

GAIN administers federal state and county funded programs for people who receive cash assistance through CalWorks.

“Our goal is to help people overcome all the obstacles they face in finding and keeping a job,” she said, through job search assistance, job training, to case management, adult education or dealing with domestic violence or mental health issues – “you name it,” Nguyen said.

“Every day we can see those around us who are affected by COVID-19,” she said, citing “severe food insecurity” and a “much higher than usual unemployment rate in the LA County”. Last December, she said, the unemployment rate was 4.3%. This year, in September, it reached 15.5% and was 12.3% in October.

“We can provide a lot of support,” Nguyen said. “Childcare, transportation assistance, work-related expenses such as tools and books.”

People can request GAIN services at (866) 292-4246 or contact DPSS at (866) 613-3777 and She also suggested applying for CalFresh (, “a great opportunity to get help.”

Yvonne Garcia Medrano, an attorney for Bet Tzedek’s Employee Rights Legal Services Program, concluded the conference by encouraging anyone facing issues such as workplace safety, wage theft, discrimination, unemployment or retaliation to contact his nonprofit organization for pro bono legal help. .

Bet Tzedek ( is at the center of a network of dozens of law firms, ready to fight for anyone “elderly, homeless, immigrants and county workers of Los Angeles, regardless of race, age, gender or status,” she said, “one of the few legal nonprofits that provides legal aid to undocumented workers” .

Bet Tzedek has a weekly clinic that workers can reach anytime at (323) 939-0506, ext. 415. Messages will be returned for an intake interview, followed by a phone call on Wednesdays from 4-7 p.m. a lawyer offering real legal help, not just a workshop.

“Our fear is that we are returning to a time when no one is enforcing these laws and employers know it.”

Michelle J. Kelley