Friday, November 19, 2010

Workers stage protest over lost wages outside Oorah company in Lakewood 

About 30 workers and others affiliated with a workers' advocacy group protested late Thursday morning outside the gates of Oorah, a faith-based nonprofit company headquartered in the township industrial park.

The workers said they were part of construction and janitorial crews that helped build and clean BoyZone, a Jewish boys' camp in the northwestern Catskills Mountains of Upstate New York. The camp is owned by Oorah.

They said they worked there for about five months, but they were not paid for the last three weeks of work.

"At first we were paid really well, every weekend," said Humburto Rodriguez, 28, of Lakewood. "Then we were told that we had too many hours and we stopped getting paid."

For about an hour Thursday, about 30 people shouted outside Oorah's gates. The building is surrounded by a high chain-link fence. Plastic evergreen garland is woven through the links.

The gates opened once to allow a visitor in a black sport-utility vehicle onto the property. The protesters spilled through the gates behind the SUV shouting: "No money! No peace!"

A man, whom workers and company officials identified as the chef at BoyZone, shouted at them to leave. A township police officer was able to get the workers to line the driveway instead of blocking the gates.

The man identified as the chef, who declined to give his name, jumped in a red SUV, blocked the gate and revved the engine several times. The police officer asked him to stop.

About 19 men who participated in the protest worked at the camp. They claimed to be owed about $60,000 for three weeks of work, said Louis Kimmel of New Labor, a workers' rights group with an office in Lakewood.

New Labor organized the protest as part of a nationwide day of action against wage theft.

"When it's just one person complaining, the bully will usually wins," Kimmel said. "We've had a lot more success with group actions."

Oorah representatives said Thursday that if the men worked at the camp, they would not have been employed by Oorah directly. The men would have been employed by one of its contractors.


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