Carmen Cruz prays for friends and family in Puerto Rico during the vigil and donation drive on Thursday, Sept. 28, to aid in the relief effort for Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Chelsea Collaborative and Teamsters Local 25 organized the event, with many community partners. Teamsters Local 25 is donating trucks and drivers to transport the relief items Hurricane Maria has devastated the island, with an overwhelming majority of the 3.4 million residents still without power as of last week, and officials struggling to get food, water, fuel and needed supplies to everyone in need.
On Monday morning, Margarita Nievez kept busy folding a sheet and some clothing that was set to be trucked out to New Jersey – and later to Puerto Rico.
The day before, she and her friends helped load rice onto pallets.
Last Thursday evening, they participated in a vigil at City Hall, and then helped collect more food that was loaded onto trucks provided by the Teamsters Local 25. That collection was also being shipped to Puerto Rico.
For Nievez, it’s all about staying busy and keeping her mind off her home island, which has been wiped out by two hurricanes this month, most recently Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20.
“It feels good to help here and not think about it,” said Nievez on Monday while folding a sheet at the Chelsea Collaborative. “They are suffering down there from not having food and water. They could be dying now.”
She began to tear up, and then went back to her work.
Nievez said she has family in Ponce and Comerio – among other remote places that were hit directly.
“I haven’t heard anything from any of them,” she said. “I don’t know where they are.”
Maria Figueroa has a sister in Mayaguez, and she said it has been encouraging to see the community in Chelsea band together so quickly to help.
Indeed, Chelsea historically has one of the largest Puerto Rican communities in the Northeast per capita, and so such a devastating impact on many in the City.
On Monday, Chelsea Police officers and Public Works crews were stationed in the Collaborative racing against the clock to load everything up before the tractor trailer arrived at 3 p.m.
Thousands of pounds of food waited in a hallway.
“I’ve been here doing something from last week until now,” said Figueroa. “Thank God everyone is helping each other. Different cultures and different races are all coming together.”
As they worked, David Rodas came through the doors to bring a variety of rice bags, water and canned goods.
“I’m not even Puerto Rican,” he said. “I’m from El Salvador, but we’re all humans and I see people in need. This is what you do.”
Collaborative Director Gladys Vega said keeping busy has helped her, and helped many like Nievez and Figueroa.
“It’s a way of them coping with what they see on TV,” she said. “They don’t want to sit around the house and not do anything and not know what’s happening. So, I’ve had a lot of people who have showed up and wanted to help since last week. They fold clothes, organize food, or whatever they can do.”
Margarita Nievez folds a sheet at the Chelsea Collaborative on Monday while Leanna Cruz organizes clothing in the background. Many Chelsea residents who have family in Puerto Rico haven’t heard any news of their whereabouts since the devastating Hurricane Maria struck on Sept. 20. To cope, they keep busy.
The Chelsea Police Department held its annual National Night Out event Tuesday at Mary O’Malley. The event raises community awareness about policing efforts and helps build partnerships between the department and residents. Several local organizations participated in the festivities. Chelsea Police Chief Brian Kyes is pictured with young residents, some representing the Chelsea Collaborative, who attended the event.
Last fall, when Chelsea’s Edma Ortiz began to get increasingly concerned about the presidential election and what was at stake for immigrants and the Latino community, she finally found the time to get to Chelsea City Hall to register to vote in the election.
However, an irregular work schedule that required her to work odd hours during weekdays, and the death of her mother that took her to Puerto Rico for nearly a month in October, delayed her trip to City Hall.
Getting on a plane Oct. 19 to go back to Boston, she remembered thinking that she needed to go register for the election.
On Oct. 20, she went to the Chelsea Collaborative to get the details on how to fill out the documents.
However, she found out she was one day late – the cutoff for registrations was on Oct. 19, many weeks before the Nov. 6 election.
With that news, the life-long U.S. Citizen was disqualified to cast her vote in what was one of the most important elections in modern history.
That and many other similar stories led the Collaborative to file a lawsuit last year challenging the voter registration cutoff – and this week the Supreme Judicial Court ruled in their favor.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruled this week that the voter registration law in Massachusetts – which calls for a cutoff for voting registration several weeks before any election – infringes on the rights of voters and should be reconsidered.
The case was brought by the Chelsea Collaborative and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the Secretary of the Commonwealth.
“We are extremely happy with the outcome on this case,” said Gladys Vega of the Collaborative. “We strongly feel that this law has to change and we are not saying this should have anything to do with same-day voter registration. What it should have everything to do with is U.S. Citizens being able to have their vote.”
The ACLU said it was a victory for democracy in the state.
“This is a major victory for democracy in Massachusetts, as the court agreed that the arbitrary 20-day voter registration cutoff law is unconstitutional and disenfranchises thousands of potential voters throughout the Commonwealth every election,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU Massachusetts. “As the Trump administration is seeking to limit access to the ballot, Massachusetts should lead nationwide efforts to ensure that everyone has a right to vote. As champions for freedom, the ACLU of Massachusetts is committed to working together with other advocates and the Massachusetts Legislature to protect and expand access to the ballot.”
Vega said the cutoff limits force people to focus on the election in October and September – times when people aren’t paying as much attention.
However, she said when people really want to vote, they find that they no longer can do so.
“I’ve had people come down with the card to register well before the election and we had to turn them away,” she said. “It was too late. One man tore the card up in front of me and said, ‘Why do I even bother.’ That shouldn’t happen…We have to register voters at a time when no one cares about it rather that at a peak time when people start caring about voting and can no longer participate.”
She said one witness in their case before the SJC testified that more than 6,500 voters had been turned away after the cutoff.
She also said technology has come to a point where a cutoff so many days ahead of time is not needed.
“Enough was enough,” she said. “We felt that this was against the Constitutional right to vote. They don’t need the processing time and documentation time any more. Things are done so much quicker that shouldn’t be a problem now.”
The Court has instructed the Secretary of the Commonwealth, Bill Galvin, to craft a law that will be more accommodating.
It will then have to be passed by the State Legislature.
Chelsea Collaborative is happy to announce that 160 out of 480 youth that have applied to work during the summer are placed in jobs and working.
Karla Garcia is shown here last week weed whipping an area on Fourth Street under the Mystic/Tobin Bridge by the ‘Welcome to Chelsea’ sign. Garcia is a summer employee of the Chelsea DPW under the Summer Youth Employment Initiative.
However, that currently makes a waiting list of 320.
The Collaborative thanks all of the worksites, and funders for making possible the most recent hired of a total of a 160 youth.
“Most of these youth began their training on June 2, every Friday during the month of June; however everyone else began with orientation and training on July 5 and at their worksites,” said Sylvia Ramirez, director of youth and families department at the Collaborative. “There are 39 site in total for 2017 and work started at those as of July 10. Most of these youth will be ending their work on August 18.”
Furthermore, under the Summer Youth Initiative, there is a series of activities coordinated through the City of Chelsea.
“We encourage our community to take full advantage of all of these great activities and to join us in having a healthy 2017 summer,” said Ramirez.
For additional questions please reach out at 617-889-6080.
The new GreenRoots team, L to R, Associate Executive Director Maria Belen Power, Nelson Martinez, Sequoyah Williams, Qamar Sabtow, Cristian Corchado, Juan Vasquez and Executive Director Roseann Bongiovanni.
A new non-profit from a very familiar group of folks has begun operations this month to advocate for environmental issues on the Chelsea Creek and throughout the city at its headquarters on Marginal Street.
GreenRoots has spun off from the Chelsea Collaborative, formerly being Chelsea GreenSpace, and will operate in cooperation with the Collaborative, but as it’s own group. The leader of the new environmental group is Roseann Bongiovanni – a long-time fixture at the Collaborative. She will be assisted by another long-time Collaborative leader, Maria Belen Power.
The two filed the papers for GreenRoots on May 27- the day of the Battle of Chelsea Creek – and have been working towards complete operation since then.
There has been no split, though, in personalities or missions for the two groups, but really just a reality of the growth at the Collaborative spurred by the mounting immigration issues and by the closure of Centro Latino.
“We will be two separate entities that are working on two different missions, but in cases where we can, we will work on projects of mutual interest,” said Bongiovanni. “An example of that was the Boston Hides and Furs case where that was an environmental issue and a worker’s rights issue too.”
The main reason for the spin-off is the fact that, due to critical issues around immigration and family survival, environmental issues and public transportation were getting pushed to the wayside. Though they had great victories against the Ethanol trains and defeating the power plant on Eastern Avenue, those victories were getting fewer and fewer as all hands were on deck to help people solve important immigration issues and to absorb the large numbers of people looking for a new service-provider home after the closure of Centro Latino last summer.
“The environmental justice work at the Collaborative was always important, but got to the point where it wasn’t the most important priority on a day-to-day basis because of all the pressing issues we faced,” said Bongiovanni. “It had become all hands on deck to help people who were in dire need of housing or food or immigration or even day to day survival. That work took away from environmental justice and administration and fund-raising. It was the right time and just made sense. GreenSpace had a meeting of its members and we talked about the good work we’ve done, and people felt it made sense to spin off now and see what other achievements could be made – especially when waterfront development is a big issue right now.”
GreenRoots has established a small Board of Directors that includes Madeline Scannell of Chelsea, Yahya Noor of Chelsea, Bob Boulrice of Chelsea and Neris Amaya of Chelsea. More Board members are expected to be added in the coming months.
Additionally, they have hired Juan Vasquez full time to work on an indoor air quality study project in Chelsea that is being done in conjunction with local hospitals.
GreenRoots will now have oversight of the Community Gardens program, and they will look to hire a part-time coordinator as well.
Additionally, all of the GreenSpace functions and the ECOYouth group are now under the GreenRoots umbrella.
Power will be working on public transportation issues as well, which was her specialty at the Collaborative.
“We’re happy to have started off small and have GreenRoots up and running,” said Bongiovanni. “We believe we have achieved many good things over the last 20 years as GreenSpace, but there is so much more we can do and we’re ready to tackle that – whether it’s water quality, land uses, environmental justice or transportation justice.”
A grand opening is scheduled for September.
The new GreenRoots team, L to R, Associate Executive Director Maria Belen Power, Nelson Martinez, Sequoyah Williams, Qamar Sabtow, Cristian Corchado, Juan Vasquez and Executive Director Roseann Bongiovanni.
On May 31st, members of the Chelsea Collaborative, Chelsea city councilors, workers rights activists and Chelsea Community members gathered for the unveiling of the Chelsea Collaborative’s new workers rights mural. The mural creator, artist Nancy Guevara met with members of the Chelsea Latino Immigrant Committee an Environmental Chelsea Organizers a several times over the past few months to create the design for the mural.
The mural is part of a statewide education campaign to bring more awareness to the worker’s rights violations that immigrant workers face throughout Massachusetts. Organizations like the Collaborative, have long been fighting issues of wage theft, especially in industries with a high level of subcontracting, where cleaning, construction and
Artist Nancy Guevara speaks during the unveiling of the Worker’s Rights mural at the Collaborative on May 31.
painting workers often see their wages and overtime stolen by predatory subcontractors.
Currently, a coalition made up of local unions, workers centers like the Collaborative, and the Boston-based organization Community Labor United is pushing a bill that would further protect sub-contracted immigrant workers. Representative Dan Ryan and Senator Sal DiDomenico, who is the co-sponsor of the bill, both attended the mural unveiling and spoke about the importance of continuing to fight for the rights of immigrant workers. At noon on Thursday June 23rd, workers, union members and other supporters of the bill will gather for a Wage Theft Speakout on the steps of the State House to call on their Senators and Representatives to pass the bill. For more information and the action and the problem of wage theft, check out www.StopMassWageTheft.org.
The mural also seeks to highlight the strength workers find through culture, community unity and organizing and features figures modeled after active members of the Chelsea Latino Immigrant Committee and Somali Bantu Girls Group. As artist Nancy Guevara wrote in the inscription accompanying the mural, “This mural celebrates the different cultures found in this city and our shared commitment to hard work and a passion for justice. Together, we weave our future, our battle giving us the strength to fight and move on. We need fairly paid and dignified work in order to realize and inherit our dreams. We came to this country to live the American dream, but we have realized it was not for us, but with the strands of our battle, our collective voices amplified and the power of our love and effort, we continue to demand the right to dream.”
Anyone interested in taking a look at the worker’s rights mural, should feel free to visit the Collaborative anytime between 10 and 5pm. The mural is meant to be an inspiration for all in our community to keep on fighting for a more just and equitable city where all workers and community members are treated with respect and dignity.
Tito Meza danced in front of City Hall to the brass bands and the calls for justice on May 1 during the multi-city May Day celebration. The Chelsea Collaborative helped to organize the annual event that travels from Everett to Revere to Chelsea and East Boston.
When Chelsea Police Det. Rosie Medina reflects on why it is she became a police officer, part of her says it’s because she wanted to defy her father, but another part says it’s because she loves the community and has found perfect harmony in her job where she can help the community and do something she loves.
Det. Medina has been on the force for nearly 25 years and last Thursday, the Massachusetts Association of Women in Law Enforcement honored her during their annual awards ceremony in Yarmouth. Medina was given the association’s Community Service Award for 2016.
Massachusetts State Police Colonel Richard McKeon served as Guest Speaker at the event and said women are important to law enforcement.
“What they bring to the table from investigations and all aspects of what we do, they’re just an integral part of law enforcement,” said McKeon.
Back in Chelsea, Medina sat down with the Record and said she loved building bridges between the community and the police department.
“I first came on under a new community policing grant and Officer Ortiz and Leon and I would go to Bosson Park and encourage the community to do cleanups and paint the park,” she said. “I think building that relationship with the community made our job so much easier – to the point where I was trusted by them. I still feel the need to be involved with the community 18 years later. You get to know so many people and so much about what’s going on.”
Medina said her work in the community, which includes investigating domestic violence cases and working with the Chelsea Collaborative’s Summer Youth Employment Program. In being involved in those pursuits, she said she has gotten important tips for crimes – simply due to the fact that people have come to respect and trust her.
Chief Brian Kyes said Medina has always understood the importance of the police and the community working as one.
“Long before she formally became a part of the Collaborative, she was engaged and involved both as a community member and a police partner,” he said. “Rose has always understood the importance of the community and the police working together to identify and solve recurring issues and therein completely comprehend the true meaning of community policing long before it was implemented as the Department’s organizational philosophy in the late 1990s.”
However, that path of policing was nearly thwarted, Medina said.
First of all, her father didn’t like the idea and, at first, of a woman being a police officer.
“My dad didn’t believe in certain jobs for women,” she said. “He liked to say only his sons would wear pants in his family and not his daughters. Looking back, who would have thought my dad and I would be sitting at a kitchen table talking about guns. If I think about it, I think I always wanted to challenge my dad and did things he wouldn’t have approved of.”
Meanwhile, other obstacles also got in her way. After seeing other women come onto the Chelsea Police and being encouraged to take the test, it took Medina three callbacks to actually get to the Department.
After being called the first time, she was sent packing because they told her she was a ½ pound over the weight limit, she said while rolling her eyes.
Det. Rosie Medina of the Chelsea Police Department recently won the Massachusetts Association of Women in Law Enforcement’s Community Service Award for 2016. Medina has been on the force for nearly 25 years.
The second time, her now ex-husband had forbid her to take the job – saying he wasn’t going to be left at home alone at night while she rode around in a cruiser with some other guy.
However, the third time, just as she was preparing to go to law school, Medina got courage and went for it.
“That time, I told my husband, now my ex-husband, that I was taking the job, even if it meant he would divorce me,” she said. “To my surprise, he was incredibly supportive. Things changed and it made the transition a lot easier.”
Almost 25 years later, Medina said she has no regrets about choosing a career in law enforcement in Chelsea.
“My supervisors and the chief have been very supportive and that has allowed me to do my job,” she said. “If you don’t have the support of the administration, it’s difficult to do what you love to do. Very few people can say they get paid to do what they love. I can say that I do.”
It was an historic occasion on Monday night when the Chelsea City Council voted unanimously to enact a Wage Theft Ordinance – the first Council in the state to do so.
Workers in the crowd at City hall brought signs encouraging the Council to vote in the new Wage Theft ordinance, which the Council passed 11-0 on Monday.
The City’s wage theft ordinance, brought to the floor by nine councillors earlier this month, would seek to make a statement about the prevalence of wage theft from employees, but in particular from vulnerable immigrant communities in the city. Practically speaking, the ordinance states that no contractor (or any subcontractor) or vendor hired by the City can have a federal or state criminal or civil judgment, administrative citation, final administrative determination, order or debarment resulting from a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act or any other federal or state laws regulating the payment of wages within three year prior to the date of any contract with the City. It also calls for any violation of the above laws during a contract period be reported to the City within five days.
It also includes a provision that allows the License Commission to deny any permit or license if violations of the law have been made within three years of any application. If any violation of the above law occurs during a licensed period, the Commission can also take action on a license for the violations.
Wage theft is defined roughly as not paying minimum wage, not paying overtime, withholding pay and sometimes not paying at all.
After the unanimous vote, the crowded Council chambers erupted in the chant, “Si se puede, si se puede!”
“I think this is more than a statement; it’s the right thing to do,” said Councillor Judith Garcia. “I support this because I can’t help but think of my mother. She is a factory worker in Chelsea and has been for 26 years. I know as the daughter of a single-mother who raised me on minimum wage that it is so important to get that wage. When we deprive people of their wage, we destabilize them and their families. I support this in the name of my mother and all the other workers that are the fabric of our nation.”
Councillor Roy Avellaneda said this is a great opportunity to make a tremendous difference.
“We will be the first City Council to pass this in the state,” he said. “Rarely do we get the opportunity to make such a difference and such an impact. I am telling you from experience we will rarely get a chance to make this much difference and this much of a statement…We are on the front lines of this problem.”
Labor leader Tony Hernandez, also a Chelsea resident, said stealing from workers is a huge problem in Chelsea.
“This will make a statement that the City of Chelsea is open for business as long as you want to do business right,” he said. “The most abused are immigrant workers who don’t speak the language. They hire one guy who speaks English and they pay him well and he is the leader of all the other guys. The other guys who don’t speak the language are abused.”
Maria Aguillar of Cottage Street told the Council that her husband has had his wages stolen, and often their family suffers from not being able to buy food or pay rent.
“We experience what it means every day to have our wages stolen,” she said. “My husband was working for a company and was not paid for two weeks. We had a very, very tough situation. We were behind on rent and behind on bills. That’s why I ask you to pass this because wage theft doesn’t just affect us as parents, but all of our families.”
Rich Rogers of the Greater Boston Labor Council said his organization is very pleased that Chelsea was taking this step.
“Wage theft is an epidemic in our nation,” he said. “Chelsea with its huge population of immigrant workers with limited English proficiency is particularly vulnerable…We’re very pleased Chelsea is jumping into the forefront of preventing wage theft.”
Chelsea Collaborative Gladys Vega said passing the ordinance is a major victory for Chelsea. She related the 2013 action by the Collaborative and the state Attorney General where $1 million was recovered from workers who had their wages stolen by Boston Hides & Furs in Chelsea. Some of those workers were paid $300 for more than 60 hours of work, if paid at all, according to the settlement from 2013.
That was just one case, she said, and one of the few that was caught.
“When the City puts a bid out, people will know Chelsea is not a place to bid if you have dirty laundry,” she said.