On October 25, 2018, the Office of Immigrant Affairs held the second Immigrant Workers Academy in the Oxford Circle neighborhood of Philadelphia. Trainers, interpreters, and immigrants came together at the Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association, an organization with programs for adult ESL learners, to participate in discussions on the challenges of the American workplace.

The Immigrant Workers Academy is an outreach program that brings workers’ rights trainings into immigrant communities. Many immigrants are unfamiliar with American workplace culture, labor laws, and are still learning English, which can leave them vulnerable to exploitation.

All workers have rights by law, and immigrants are no exception. But it can be difficult for immigrants to know what rights and laws exist to protect them. “Most people do not know that there is a way to improve working conditions without having to lose their job”, says Natalia Nicastro of PhilaPOSH. “They usually don’t know that health and safety complaints can be made anonymously or with the help of an organization like PhilaPOSH that will advocate for their rights totally free of charge. Workers do not usually know that together, we can create the best strategies to have fair working conditions and become really powerful.”

The Immigrant Workers Academy is designed to bridge the gap between the issues immigrants face and the resources that are available to guide them.

At this Workers Academy, we partnered with several key groups, including:

  • Community Legal Services
  • Citizens Bank
  • The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations
  • UNITE HERE Local 274
  • PhilaPOSH
  • Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance

Trainers from these organizations led sessions covering skills from managing credit and opening a bank account to learning to recognize sexual harassment in the workplace. The Academy served large populations of immigrants who spoke Spanish and Haitian Creole, as well as several other languages. Interpreters were on hand to make trainings as accessible and effective as possible.

The goal of the Office of Immigrant Affairs is to “to promote the well-being of Philadelphia’s immigrant communities.” The Immigrant Workers Academy directly supports that goal, because when we offer resources to immigrants who work in unsafe conditions or provide information to immigrants who need to open bank accounts and build credit, we empower them to succeed in America. Immigrants are part of what make Philadelphia the great city that it is: diverse, resilient, and welcoming. It can be daunting to arrive in a new country and face new issues in the workplace. But as one trainer at the Academy stated, “the power of what we can create together shouldn’t be overlooked.”