By Elizabeth Llorente
The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, founded in 1974, says it’s setting up an office to address “the unmet legal needs of Asian-Americans in New Jersey.”
The New Jersey-Asian American Legal Project — which is part of the national group — will run the office.
NJ-AALP director Alex Saingchin said that Asian-Americans often are vulnerable to exploitation by employers because they lack information about their labor rights. And even when they learn about their rights, Saingchin said, or discover that an employer’s actions may be unlawful, cultural and linguistic barriers dissuade them from approaching government authorities.
“We want to build trust and recognition with the Asian-American community here in New Jersey,” said Saingchin, also a staff attorney, “and have a central space to reach out to the different Asian communities that are geographically apart from one another.”
U.S. Department of Labor officials say they welcome the help of ethnic organizations in encouraging members from their communities to report employment violations.
“Many immigrants have a lack of understanding about our labor laws, and that they are protected by them,” said John W. Warner, assistant district director for DOL Wage and Hour Division’s Mountainside office. “Sometimes it’s because they come from countries where there is no protection like that, or the labor laws are not very effective.”
NJ-AALP, a non-profit whose services are free, also has set up a multilingual toll-free hot line 888-406-1555.
The group already is active in the state, taking out ads and opinion pieces in ethnic newspapers to let Asian Americans know their rights, and holding clinics in North Jersey on immigration and employment issues. The group often must tailor its clinics to a single Asian group because of the linguistic differences, Saingchin said.
In May, NJ-AALP helped a Korean immigrant who worked as a valet for a beauty spa in Palisades Park reach an $8,000 settlement for a year’s unpaid overtime and damages. Currently, Saingchin said, NJ-AALP is working on the case of a Korean secretary in Palisades Park who worked for about five months without pay, and a Filipino domestic worker in Fort Lee who worked 87 hours a week for substandard pay. Saingchin said he is also representing a group of Asian day laborers from various Bergen County towns who were not paid for their work.