Willets Point workers fight for their little slice of wasteland
Between mounds of rusted metal, puddles of oil, and muddy holes filled with stagnant water, Jose Martin earns his living as a mechanic in a little workshop in Willets Point, according to the Spanish-language daily. The area is near CitiField, where the Mets play.
Willets Point boasts 250 mechanic workshops, employing 1700 workers — 90 percent of whom are Latino, the paper reports. Eighty percent of Willets Point’s 62 acres are owned by the city, which plans on investing $3 billion to recast the area as a tourist destination.
Martin, a 23 year-old from El Salvador, gets to keep half of whatever mechanic services he sells. His boss keeps the other half, he told El Diario.
Martin said he lives in a state of anguish over the precarious economy in Willets Point, which “used to pay well, but now seems lean.”
Martin thinks that city officials are trying to “scare clients” away, crushing business.
He said that 100 police officers and 50 patrol cars swarmed Willets Point in December.
“They arrested 16 people. All of this has freaked out our customers and the workers who earn their living here. The situation keeps getting worse,” he told the newspaper.
Marcos Neira, Willets Point Defense Committee president, told El Diario that the city’s plan to relocate individual workers is not enough.
“We’re demanding mass relocation,” he said.
Jolie Wood, a spokeswoman for the city’s economic development corporation, countered that the planned changes would help everyone.
“It’s beneficial to the neighborhood, because we can modernize the area, bringing better work opportunities and economic development.”
Workers don’t only face an uncertain future about their employment, the paper notes. They also face precarious working conditions. Many Willets Point workers are unwilling to come forward about workplace dangers, because they have concerns over their immigration status, according to the newspaper.
“I paint cars. I don’t have the right mask to protect me,” Arcadio Cordoba, who has worked in Willets Point for 10 years, told the paper. “I breathe in paint, and that has caused me a lot of health problems.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 21, 2011