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I Have Been Ordered into Slave Labor

February 1, 2013

Even though I am receiving unemployment insurance, because I applied for a full welfare case when I was sent the scare mail that my unemployment insurance, which at the time had a remaining balance of under $700 (I receive $144 per week before taxes, which I have removed, such that I have $126 per week direct-deposited into my checking account), would end on 12/30 (not sure why not 12/31) barring an act of Congress, I was awarded $22.50 in biweekly cash assistance, even though I showed documentation that I was indeed continuing to receive unemployment insurance, showed them my bank accounts with close to $2,000 in them, and they even needed a copy of the 401(k) I inherited from my father that has, as I recall, $149 in it.

For my trouble, I am required to do seven hours of  Work Experience Program (hereafter, WEP) each Tuesday and spend 23 hours a week at FEGS.

It’s rotten to get to FEGS from the shelter.  I walked today, but this is not a healthy situation in my physical condition, particularly combined with the bitter cold.  The Houston Street bus in one of the more unreliable ones in the system.  It comes as frequently as a typical Staten Island bus, and sometimes it’s nowhere to be found when it’s scheduled to arrive.

I’ve already experienced the incompetence of FEGS in 2006, and now I’m back again, even though I’m on unemployment.  It is clear that nothing has changed–I was supposed to report at 10 AM, and even though I was 20 minutes early (I was earlier still, but I went around the block so as not to show up excessively early, remembering the Project Renewal class yesterday in which we were said absolutely not to show up half an hour or more early), I was not seen until 12:05.  This is sheer incompetence.  The link the the procedure versus the number of people waiting certainly did not warrant it, either.

This means that, starting Monday, I am being paid at a rate of 37.5 cents an hour.  Many criminals make more than this in prison work, and they have no legal right to any money at all for this work, having been convicted under due process, which the thirteenth amendment allows as an exception to slavery law.  Now, is this going to be as terrible as legalized “slave labor” in the 19th century sense?  Of course not, but it just seems a method to victimize me while protracting my period of unemployment for others’ use as long as possible.  I am concerned that if I do not comply, they will simply close my case, when I want to continue to receive SNAP and Medicaid, which do not require participation in these programs.  I have requested a fair hearing, offering to forego the cash assistance, but will comply for the time being.

My WEP assignment is with Moravian Open Door at 347 E 18th Street.  As far as I am concerned, this organization, FEGS, and the City of New York are all complicit in violation of the 13th Amendment and federal minimum wage laws.  I will be seeking an attorney.  I suspect this has never been before a judge on the grounds that participants are too intimidated by their poverty or that no attorney has been willing to take on such a case on contingency.

WEP may have a purpose if someone has no job skills, but I have eight years of higher education and have been in the work force on and off since 1994.  Applied to a person with work experience and education, this is nothing more than non-profits abusing the system for free labor.  When I did WEP in 2006, I was assured by FEGS that if the organization likes you, they will hire you.  I worked in the administrative offices of Housing Works Thrift Shops.  I was told that they did like me, but that it was not in the budget to hire me, so they would be glad to have me as long as I was in the program.  Every other client to whom I spoke was told the same thing.  For the client, it is a purely vindictive system of “blame the victim,” an effort to criminalize poverty and homelessness without any discipline whatsoever to the employers that are essentially accomplices to this criminal act, presumably on the grounds that this would be “difficult,” or “exponential.”

At one point in my 2006 experience, a friend (who was and is a librarian, but at the time, she had been recently been laid off and was hoping to get paralegal training) and I individually had to speak with this girl named Shelly who had a great big office to herself.  She looked about 23 and was one of the most vapid people my friend or I had ever met.  My friend and I were convinced that she was a rich girl from Long Island who got the job because she wanted to work for a non-profit and Daddy pulled strings to make sure that she got what she wanted.  I caught a glimpse of her at my previous appointment.  She has not aged well in six years.  She probably realizes that she is working for a racket and that she is really victimizing people for a living rather than helping them, but it’s not hard to think of reasons why she would stay regardless.  She inspired a character in a short story I wrote about a vampire (that was her) and a ghost (the narrator, whose gender is very carefully never specified).  I don’t think I finished it, but I certainly had the end, which was inspired by a dream, planned out.  I wrote that manuscript with pen and paper and never typed it, and it is buried in storage, so I can’t present an excerpt at the present time.

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