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© Allison Usavage

Tompkins County Workers Rights Hotline

A program of the Tompkins County Worker’s Center, the Workers’ Rights Hotline acts as a doorway into the organization. Support for workers who feel that they’re being treated unfairly is available over the phone or in person, and the program has been so successful at advocating for workers’ rights and connecting worker activists that several workers’ unions have started out of the actions of the hotline program.

A Q&A with Pete Meyers, Coordinator at the Worker’s Center, and photographs from a celebration earlier this month of the victories of the Worker’s Center in 2014.

What is the Workers Hotline?

When people feel aggrieved at work or feel like they’re being treated unfairly at work, they can call or visit to talk about that issue. At minimum we provide people emotional support for what they’re going through, but we also provide advocacy and encourage people to join together with others in the workplace to change whatever condition they want to change.


© Allison Usavage
Who is it good for?

All workers who feel they are being treated unfairly in the workplace and want to change things for the better.


What kind of change is the hotline trying to make?

Basically we want people to have a sense of dignity and respect in the workplace. Dignity is an inner cultivated reality, but if you’re feeling the opposite of that from the people that you work with, such as coworkers or bosses, then it’s going to be harder to feel that sense of dignity and a sense that they can provide for themselves and their families with the work that they do.


How did it start?

When we formed as an organization back in 2003, my co-founder Carl had been part of a hotline in Cortland. The Workers’ Center had started out promoting a living wage, but we made the decision to do the hotline, he had some experience with that, and the rest is history.


© Allison Usavage
What impact does this have on our community?

If you’re driving down the road, you have the understanding that if the light turns red you stop. It’s a social contract. You know it’s really not right if you’re mad at someone to murder them. Social contract. But then there’s social contract stuff around labor issues that just doesn’t garner the same kind of respect. The hotline is raising the level of conversation around what the social contract should be with regard to labor.


How has the community supported the hotline?

Definitely financially. And people refer people to the hotline. People have heard about us so they know to refer people to us if they have a friend that’s been screwed over in some way.


What struggles have you encountered?

At the very basic level, one of the things we talk about is how many cases we drop if we don’t pick up the phone right away. If you don’t answer the phone they’re not going to leave a message.

But really, a big struggle is figuring out how to handle when an employer is being unfair. How do you ascertain what the truth is in a situation, and how do you decide what to do with it? I think we’re actually very creative in that regard. We think outside the box.


What should we be celebrating?

Whatever people’s experience is. It sounds strange… celebrate might be a weird word for it, but we should have respect for everyone’s experiences. If you don’t celebrate and face your fears then you’ll never move to the next level. I think we’re learning to get up and stand up here as a people, and I think that the Workers’ Center is playing a role in that.


© Allison Usavage
How can we participate?

Everybody, whoever you are: speak your truth. If you feel like you’re being treated unfairly, think about what you need to do to make it right, wherever you’re at.


Find contact information and learn more about the hotline at Take action to support workers’ rights in Tompkins County by joining the Workers’ Center email newsletter.


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