RESILIENCE FORCE works with community advocates and forward-thinking leaders in government, labor, the private sector and philanthropy to rewrite the rules of recovery.
Resilience Force workers, Joel Salazar and Hector Emilio Rivamar joined activists to describe harsh and heart-wrenching experiences with reconstructing Panama City, FL after Hurricane Michael.
Executive Director, Saket Soni explained the need for stronger worker rights and Cynthia Hernandez was also present to support worker protections that can prevent other workers from wage theft, inadequate housing, and unsafe working conditions.
This disaster relief group, made up of many undocumented immigrants, helps devastated communities often left behind.
Immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, play a critical but largely unacknowledged role in helping communities rebuild and recover during and after natural disasters.
They arrived by the hundreds last year after Hurricane Michael sliced through the Florida Panhandle, packing 160-mile-per-hour winds that snapped pine trees in half, mangled steel posts, ripped off roofs and upended people’s lives.
In this opinion piece, Executive Directors Saket Soni of Resilience Force and Andrea Cristina Mercado of New Florida Majority demonstrate what’s at stake for Floridians in the choices public officials make during disaster recovery—specifically, Hurricane Michael.
Before disaster, people make sure communities are ready. They help to elevate houses near the water, they plant trees as storm buffers, and they get their neighbors to create an evacuation plan.
Many people help when disaster hits. They bring their neighbors to safety. They provide food, water, money and medicine to those that need it. They fight fires, build shelters and provide health care. They coordinate volunteers and help translate complicated information into plain language.
In the weeks, months and years after disaster, people put their communities back together. They demolish and repair homes, they help people cut through red tape to get the help they need, and they help people get jobs and childcare so they can come home.
After Hurricane Katrina, in 2006, Saket co-founded the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice. Under his leadership, the organization won organizing and policy victories for both U.S.-born and immigrant workers engaged in the reconstruction of New Orleans. Saket led the organization to win precedent-setting National Labor Relations Board decisions protecting migrant whistleblowers on the front lines of the hospitality and seafood industries from retaliatory firings and blacklisting. In New Orleans, he also crafted campaigns to win pathways into the publicly funded construction industry for African American workers. Saket led a combined organizing and legal strategy to combat human trafficking, which resulted in a federal court awarding over $14 million in damages to migrant resilience workers rebuilding the Gulf Coast. In 2011, Saket founded the National Guestworker Alliance, an organization focused on defending the human rights and dignity of guestworkers in America.
Saket is recognized as a national expert on post-disaster economies, immigrant rights and the future of work. He was profiled as an “architect of the next labor movement” in USA Today, and he has testified before Congress and at the United Nations. Saket’s advocacy efforts have been featured on NPR, in Time, and on the front page of The New York Times. His writings have appeared in the L.A. Times, The Hill, The Nation, Latino Journal, Talking Points Memo and on CNN.com.
Saket co-authored And Injustice For All: Workers’ Lives In the Reconstruction, the most comprehensive report on race in the reconstruction of the post-Katrina Gulf Coast, as well as Never Again: Lessons of the Gustav Evacuation, an account of the inequities in the response to Hurricane Gustav in 2009, which led to new state policies and new norms for evacuating the most vulnerable residents in preparation for disaster.
Saket began his career as a community organizer in Chicago at the Coalition of African, Asian, European, and Latino Immigrants of Illinois. He is originally from New Delhi, India.
Jeff has spent more than 20 years working for racial and economic justice, first as a community organizer, then as a funder, and for the past 8 years as a professional fundraiser and nonprofit manager. He has managed fundraising for groups such as People’s Action, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and Midwest Academy. At Resilience Force, Jeff coordinates staff management, finance, fundraising and organizational development. He lives on the south side of Chicago.
Daniel arrived in the U.S. under exploitative conditions as an H-2B guestworker after Hurricane Katrina. He began organizing with other guestworkers in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and helped found the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA), a national membership organization that fights for dignified work and just migration. As a Research Associate at NGA, he works to improve workplace conditions for migrant workers by investigating questions of workplace standards enforcement. Daniel is a recognized expert on U.S. guestworker programs, consults regularly with U.S. policymakers and has testified before Congress on effective enforcement models within the U.S. Department of Labor. He also advises Resilience Force on worker engagement. Daniel is from Peru and is the proud father of two teenagers.
Cynthia began her career as a researcher and instructor at Florida International University (FIU) in 2006. Her research interests include issues at the intersection of labor and immigration, with a focus on wage theft. Her numerous research and publications led to the creation of several county-wide anti-wage theft ordinances throughout Florida, which have helped recover millions of dollars of unpaid wages. After nearly ten years of public service at FIU, Cynthia became the Executive Director of the South Florida American Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO). In that capacity, Cynthia led several coalitions to win higher wages and benefits for low-income families in Miami-Dade County, and lobbied for equitable development and progressive immigration legislation. At Resilience Force, Cynthia is tracking changing conditions and regulations affecting Resilience Workers. Cynthia is from Mexico, having immigrated to the U.S. at the age of five. She lives in Miami, Florida.
Javiera (Javi) joined the National Guestworker Alliance in September 2016 and she is currently a Program Office at Resilience Force. She is a believer in participatory democracy and has developed a deep understanding of social justice through previous work at the Stewart R. Mott Foundation, MoveOn.org and the Institute for Policy Studies. She is passionate about empowering marginalized people, ensuring equal opportunities and maintaining a strong commitment to the opposition of oppression. At Resilience Force, Javi supports collaborations with workers, including in-person trainings and deeper engagement with Resilience Workers.. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
Saket Soni, Resilience Force staff and resilience workers across Florida show how immigrant workers are on the front lines of climate disasters: making recovery possible and rebuilding America.