An Advocate Grows in Brooklyn

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Remember all the, “I can’t believe this could happen in my neighborhood,” commotion back in November when the New York Department of Labor unveiled a study showing that few restaurant delivery workers in Park Slope were being paid a proper wage? Gabriel Thompson is here to tell you that it’s not just Park Slope, it’s everywhere.

The Crown Heights resident worked as a bike deliveryman for an upscale Mexican restaurant in Manhattan as research for his book, Working in the Shadows, which came out Tuesday. “The minimum wage for delivery food workers is $4.60,” says Thompson. “Just about everyone I met was making half that. It’s about what employers can get away with.”

Thomspon spent a year traveling around the United States, working in industries that are largely dependent on immigrant labor. He went undercover, picking lettuce for Dole in Yuma, Arizona, processing chickens at a plant in Alabama, and working in a flower shop and as a restaurant deliveryman in Manhattan. Surprisingly, the flowershop was the worst job of the bunch.

“It’s amazing how little people paid attention,” he says of the flowershop customers. “It was obvious the owner was just shouting at us constantly and completely abusive.” That job he left after just two days; the chicken processors got wind of his project after a few weeks and fired him, too. “It was a very interesting conversation with the HR department,” he says.

Thompson is reading tonight at Soda Bar, at a book release party aptly titled, Drinking in the Shadows. At his restaurant job the delivery workers also made the guacamole, which at $14 per order, represented nearly an entire shift’s worth of wages for the workers mashing avocados in the kitchen. While the job was dangerous and grueling, he learned to make great guacamole, which he’ll bring to the reading tonight. The real question: Who picked those avocados? The event is co-sponsored by and a benefit for La Unión, an immigrant advocacy group based in Park Slope Sunset Park.

Sent by Annaliese. Video courtesy of Gabriel Thompson.

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