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UMass Lowell donates $68,000 to improve immigrants' work conditions

By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online. By SUSAN McMAHON Sun Staff

LOWELL The effort to improve working conditions for immigrants and educate them about their on-the-job rights got a big boost from UMass Lowell recently, with a $68,000 award to the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, or MassCOSH, which promotes safety for immigrant workers.

"We congratulate MassCOSH on its long history of advocacy for workers, and we applaud the alliance between MassCOSH and immigrant community organizations," said Prof. Charles Levenstein of UMass Lowell's Work Environment department.

"Only through building such coalitions can we hope to bring a public spotlight on the hazardous conditions which immigrant workers suffer and remedy these intolerable situations," he added.

The funding, from the university's Work Environment Justice Fund, will help MassCOSH and its organizing partners the Chelsea Human Services Collaborative and Western MassCOSH continue to teach and assist immigrant workers.

"It will definitely be a great asset to the organization and to the workers," said Jean Carmel St. Juste, coordinator of the immigrant worker program at MassCOSH.

In the past month alone, three immigrants in Massachusetts died on the job. A recent study by Northeastern University showed that 45 percent of the semi-skilled workers in the state are immigrants.

As part of the project, MassCOSH sets up education sessions with workers, giving them information about rights in the workplace and safety regulations from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration. The hope is that workers who attend the sessions will pass the information on to family and friends.

The group also listens to the workers' concerns and helps them organize activities to protest unfair working conditions.

"It's about empowering the workers," St. Juste said. "We don't come and tell them this is what it is, but we listen to them through some activities we designed for them to do."