METROFOCUS: March 11, 2021

NYC Public Advocate and former candidate for Lieutenant Governor Jumaane Williams says the city needs a New Deal-like plan, arguing that simply trying to get New York City back to where it was pre-pandemic would leave too many New Yorkers behind. So he’s released a roadmap to recovery that includes immediate and long-term solutions in areas of health and housing equity, education and civic engagement and plans to help mom and pop shops and extend tax benefits since they are the businesses most likely to hire people from the community. Tonight he discusses what he says are “arcane cuts that people are pushing through” and how to “really correct many of the things that weren’t correct before the pandemic.”

New York’s skyline has soared to new heights in recent years thanks in large part to construction workers. But amid this building boom dozens have died on the job despite regulations intended to keep them safe. Workplace tragedies continue at job sites across the country. Now a new film, “Building The American Dream” is giving us a firsthand look at the fight for fair working conditions and the abuse of immigrant labor. Airing as part of Voces — the acclaimed PBS documentary series produced by Latino Public Broadcasting — the film takes us to Texas to depict the downside of putting business over people. As part of our Chasing The Dream initiative on poverty, justice and economic opportunity in America, the film’s Producer and Director Chelsea Hernandez joins us.

TRANSCRIPT

> THIS IS 'METROFOCUS' WITH RAFAEL PI ROMAN, JACK FORD, AND JENNA FLANAGAN.

'METROFOCUS' IS MADE POSSIBLE BY SUE AND EDGAR WACHENHEIM III, SYLVIA A. AND SIMON B. POYTA PROGRAMING ENDOWMENT TO FIGHT ANTI-SEMITISM.

THE PETER G. PETERSON FUND.

BERNARD AND DENISE SCHWARTZ, BARBARA HOPE ZUCKERBERG, JANET PRINDLE SEIDLER, JODY AND JOHN ARNHOLD, CHERYL AND PHILIP MILSTEIN FAMILY, JUDY AND JOSH WESTON, DR. ROBERT C. AND TINA SOHN FOUNDATION, THE JPB FOUNDATION.

> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M RAFAEL PI ROMAN.

WE'RE PROBABLY MONTHS AWAY FROM PUTTING THE PANDEMIC BEHIND US BUT WHAT WILL NEW YORK CITY LOOK LIKE POST-COVID?

MORE IMPORTANTLY, WHAT SHOULD IT LOOK LIKE?

PUBLIC ADVOCATE JAMANI WILLIAMS IS ONE OF THE LEADERS TRYING TO TACKLE THESE CRITICAL QUESTIONS.

LAST WEEK HE UNVEILED HIS ROAD TO RECOVERY CALLED 'A RENEWED DEAL FOR NEW YORK CITY.'

IT'S AN AMBITIOUS PROPOSAL, ONE THAT HE SAYS WILL NOT CERTAINLY RETURN NEW YORK TO WHERE IT WAS BUT WILL RATHER BEGIN TO TRANSFORM IT SO THAT IT ALLEVIATES THE SUFFERING AND LIFTS UP THE LIVES OF THOSE WHO HAVE TOO OFTEN BEEN LEFT BEHIND.

WHAT EXACTLY IS HE CALLING FOR?

JOINING US TO TALK ABOUT THAT AND OTHER MAJOR ISSUES IMPACTING THE CITY AND THE STATE IS PUBLIC ADVOCATE JOMANI WILLIAMS.

WELCOME BACK, ALWAYS A PLEASURE.

ALWAYS A PLEASURE TO BE INVITED AND TO BE ON.

LET ME START WITH THIS.

AS I SAID, IN YOUR STATE OF THE PEOPLE ADDRESS LAST WEEK, YOU FOCUSED ON THE PROJECT YOU CALLED THE RENEWED DEAL WHICH CONSCIOUSLY HEARKENS BACK TO THE NEW DEAL, FDR'S PLAN TO TACKLE AND DEFEAT THE GREAT DEPRESSION 90 YEARS AGO.

WHY THIS REFERENCE TO THE NEW DEAL?

WHAT'S THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE NEW DEAL AND YOUR DEAL?

YOU KNOW, IT'S REALLY IMPORTANT TO LEARN FROM HISTORY.

SO WE ARE COMING BACK FROM WHAT IS ARGUABLY GOING TO BE ONE OF THE TOUGHEST ECONOMIC CHALLENGES THAT WE'VE HAD.

AND SO WE SHOULD LOOK AT WHAT'S WORKED.

AS YOU MENTIONED IN YOUR OP OPENING, WE HAVE A VERY AMBITIOUS PLAN.

BUT IT'S NOT HYPOTHETICAL.

IT'S NOT THEORETICAL.

WE'VE SEEN THAT WHAT ACTUALLY GOT US OUT OF THINGS LIKE THE GREAT DEPRESSION 90 YEARS AGO WAS INVESTMENT AND NOT AUSTERITY.

WHICH TO SOME PEOPLE IS KIND OF INTUITIVE.

BUT REALLY INVESTING IN THE THINGS THAT WE ARE PROPOSING WILL HELP US GET NOT ONLY OUT OF WHERE WE ARE NOW, BUT TAKE US PAST WHERE WE WERE BEFORE THE PANDEMIC.

SO WE DON'T WANT TO GO BACK TO NORMAL BECAUSE, QUITE FRANKLY, NORMAL DIDN'T WORK FOR MOST NEW YORKERS OR AMERICANS, WE WANT TO GET BETTER THAN NORMAL.

IN YOUR RENEWED DEAL YOU TOUCH ON A NUMBER OF ISSUES YOU'RE PROPOSING TO TACKLE SUCH AS PUBLIC HOUSING, AFFORDABLE HOUSING, THE CITY'S TRANSPORTATION INFRASTRUCTURE, GENERAL POST-COVID ECONOMIC RECOVERY, PUBLIC HEALTH AND PUBLIC SAFETY, AMONG OTHER THINGS.

LET ME START WITH PUBLIC HOUSING AND AFFORDABLE HOUSING.

WHAT DO YOU PROPOSE TO DO TO AMELIORATE THAT DIFFICULT SITUATION?

THAT'S A VERY CRITICAL POINT.

AND IMPORTANT POINT.

WE HAVE TO REMEMBER THAT IT'S HARD FOR A COMMUNITY TO HEAL AND EVEN DEVELOP IF THEY DON'T HAVE ADEQUATE HOUSING TO COME BACK FROM A HOSPITAL VISIT TO GET BETTER, OR TO STUDY FOR SCHOOL, OR TO REPLENISH AFTER WORK.

AND WHAT WE SAW IN THE FIRST NEW DEAL WAS THERE WERE INVESTMENTS IN HOUSING.

WE DID SOME OF OUR SPEECH IN FRONT OF THE FIRST HOUSES WHICH WERE THE FIRST HOUSES IN THE STATE TO BE BUILT FROM NEW DEAL MONEY.

SO WE HAVE TO REINVEST IN NIJA AND TEASE TYPES OF AFFORDABLE HOUSING.

WE HAVE TO REPLENISH THE STOCK THAT'S THERE.

WE HAVE TO BE CREATIVE AND CREATE NEW PROGRAMS, BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, ONE OF THE PLACES THE NEW DEAL FAILED WITH HOWING WAS EQUITY.

THIS IS ONE PLACE THAT ACTUALLY CREATED REDLINING.

SO THEY FOCUSED ON PARTS OF THE POPULATION AND LEFT OTHER PARTS OF THE POPULATION TO FEND FOR ITSELF.

YOU CAN TRACE THOSE RED LINES FROM HOUSING IN THE NEW DEAL TO WHO WAS MOST IMPACTED FROM COVID.

IT'S A DIRECT LINK.

SO WHAT WE WANT TO DO IS MAKE SURE THAT WE HAVE EQUITY WHEN WE APPROACH FIXING THE HOUSING CRISIS, COMBATING DISCRIMINATION AND INEQUITY, AND MAKE SURE PEOPLE IN THE HOUSING THAT NEEDS THE MOST RESOURCES ACTUALLY GETS IT.

PUBLIC SAFETY, NEXT TO OUR CONCERNS ABOUT OUR HEALTH REGARDING COVID, PUBLIC SAFETY IS PROBABLY TOP OF MANY NEW YORKERS' MINDS.

HOW ARE YOU PROPOSING TO TACKLE PUBLIC SAFETY?

CONCRETELY, WHAT ARE YOU PROPOSING TO DO TO REVERSE THE RISE IN SHOOTINGS AND MURDERS THAT WE'VE BEEN EXPERIENCING OVER AT LEAST THE PAST NINE MONTHS?

ARE YOU STILL ADVOCATING FOR THE CONCEPT OF DEFUNDING THE POLICE, EVEN UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES?

I THINK WE'VE SEEN, AND HOPEFULLY WE DON'T FORGET, THE INTERSECTIONS OF PUBLIC SAFETY, PUBLIC HEALTH, AND SO MANY OTHER THINGS THAT WE SAW DURING THIS PAST YEAR.

AND IT SHOULD BE A TREMENDOUS LESSON.

BECAUSE WE WERE GOING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION, AND THEN THE PANDEMIC EXPOSED SO MANY ISSUES THAT WE HAD BEFORE.

WE SHOULDN'T BE AFRAID OF DISCUSSING WHAT DEFUND THE POLICE ACTUALLY MEANS.

WE CAN'T RUN AWAY FROM THAT.

WE HAVE TO CONTINUALLY INVITE FOLKS WHO GO LOOK AT THE GREEN NEW DEAL TO GO ON OUR WEBSITE, TO LOOK AT OUR 10-POINT PLAN OF WHAT IT MEANS TO REIMAGINE PUBLIC SAFETY, UNDERSTANDING THAT LAW ENFORCEMENT HAS A ROLE TO PLAY.

BUT THEY CAN'T BE THE ONLY ROLE.

SO WHEN PEOPLE ARE TALKING ABOUT DEFUND, THEN YOU REALIZE THE ONLY AGENCY THAT WASN'T DEFUNDING WAS NYPD.

RIGHT NOW THE BUDGET PROPOSE CUTS THE DIVISION OF YOUTH AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT BY 10%. THAT MEANS ALL YOUTH PROGRAMS GETTING CUT.

BUT IT INCREASES THE NYPD BUDGET BY OVER 6%. WHAT MESSAGE IS THAT SENDING?

WE HAVE TO HAVE THE COURAGE TO SAY, THIS IS THE WAY WE'RE GOING TO DEAL WITH THE SHOOTING, WE'RE GOING TO USE EVIDENCE-BASED PROGRAMS THAT HELPS MEET FOLKS AND REACH THE NEEDS THAT THEY HAVE THAT ARE CAUSING THIS.

YOU HAVE TO HAVE ACCOUNTABILITY.

YOU CAN'T GO AROUND SHOOTING PEOPLE.

BUT LET'S ADDRESS THE PROBLEMS AS WELL, BECAUSE NATIONALLY WE SEE GUN VIOLENCE RISING AND LAW ENFORCEMENT ALONE CAN'T FIX IT.

WE'VE HAD BLACK MINISTERS, BLACK PASTORS ON THAT SHOW, AND WE RAISE THAT ISSUE.

ALMOST UNIVERSALLY THEY SAY, NO, NO, WE DON'T WANT TO DEFUND THE POLICE.

IT'S THROUGH NYPD UNDER PREVIOUS ADMINISTRATIONS TREATED COMMUNITIES OF COLOR AS IF THEY WERE OCCUPIED TERRITORY, RIGHT?

AND THAT CAN'T HAPPEN.

BUT SINCE THEY BEAR THE BRUNT OF THE RISING CRIME, THEY DON'T WANT TO DEFUND THE POLICE, THEY JUST WANT THE POLICE TO ACT IN A DECENT, RESPECTFUL WAY TO EVERY NEW YORKER.

HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO THAT?

AND IT'S INTERESTING, AND I WOULD -- AND I RESPECT THOSE PASTORS AND THE PEOPLE WHO SAY THAT.

THE THING I WOULD TELL FOLKS ASKING THE QUESTION, YOU SHOULD ASK THOSE PASTORS, DO YOU WANT YOUR YOUTH PROGRAMS CUT?

DO YOU WANT THE HOUSING PROGRAMS CUT?

DO YOU WANT THE MENTAL HEALTH AND HEALTH SERVICES CUT?

AND THEY WOULD SAY NO.

SO WHY IS IT THAT WE ONLY HEAR THE DISCUSSION THEY'RE HAVING ABOUT THE POLICE, BUT WE HAVEN'T HEARD THEM SAYING THEY DON'T WANT THE REST OF THESE CUTS TO HAPPEN EITHER?

THERE'S ONE BEING CUT AND THE OTHER ISN'T.

THE OTHER THING I WOULD SAY IS 30 YEARS AGO, WE REALLY SAW SOME INCREASES IN CRIME AROUND WHAT -- IT'S A WHOLE OTHER DISCUSSION, WHAT PUSHED THE CRACK EPIDEMIC AND THINGS OF THAT MAY HAVE.

WE HEARD SOME SIMILAR CRIES.

30 YEARS LATER, WE'RE ACTUALLY APOLOGIZING FOR THE HEAVY LAW ENFORCEMENT TACK THAT WE TOOK, BECAUSE IT DIDN'T IMMEDIATELY ADDRESS THE PROBLEM AND IT CREATED A WHOLE HOST OF OTHERS.

AGAIN, WE HAVE TO LOOK AT HISTORY, WHERE WE'RE COMING FROM, AND NOT REPEAT, AND REALLY ADDRESS THESE PROBLEMS.

BECAUSE FAMILIES DESERVE REAL ANSWERS AND SOLUTIONS.

REAL QUICKLY, WE'RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME, CAN YOU TELL US THE ESSENCE WHAT WAS YOU HOPE TO DO WITH PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION?

WE HAVE TO REALLY -- THE BIGGEST THING I THINK PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT THE NEW DEAL WAS THE INVESTMENT IN INFRASTRUCTURE.

AND SO WHEN YOU INVEST IN REPAIRING THE PROBLEMS WE HAVE WITH OUR TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM, CHANGING WHAT WE HAVE NOW TO GREEN ENERGY, THAT CREATES A WHOLE HOST OF JOBS.

BUT ALSO, WHEN YOU LOOK AT PEOPLE BEING ARRESTED FOR FARE EVASION, WE HAVE TO EXPAND SOMETHING LIKE THE FAIR FARE PLANS AND REALLY PUSH FOR A FREE TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM, ESPECIALLY FOR THOSE WHO CAN'T AFFORD IT.

AGAIN, THIS IS NOT HYPOTHETICAL, THIS CAN REALLY HAPPEN, AND YOU'LL SEE A REAL IMPACT IN TERMS OF PUBLIC SAFETY.

SO I THINK YOU YOURSELF HAVE SAID THAT THE PRICE TAG OF YOUR PROPOSALS IS NOT CHEAP.

INVESTMENT MEANS SPENDING.

SOME PEOPLE SAY, WE DON'T HAVE THE MONEY.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

GO BACK 90 YEARS, SAME QUESTION.

THE BIGGEST EXPANSION OF THE CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK EVER HAPPENED DURING THE GREAT DEPRESSION.

SO WE HAVE THE MONEY ALWAYS TO INVEST WHERE WE THINK WE NEED TO INVEST.

WE'LL BE GETTING SOME ASSISTANCE FROM THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT NOW.

MORE IMPORTANTLY, THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO HAVE MADE ACTUALLY ADDITIONAL BILLIONS OF DOLLARS OVER THE LAST YEAR.

THERE'S AN INVEST IN NEW YORK PLAN RIGHT NOW THAT THE STATE DOES NOT PUSHBACK ON JUST BECAUSE WE'RE GETTING THIS ADDITIONAL HELP WE NEEDED FROM THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.

ALL THESE THINGS CAN BE FUNDING WITHOUT HURTING FOLKS.

IT'S NOT ABOUT PUNISHMENT FOR BEING RICH, IT'S ABOUT CIVIC RESPONSIBILITY.

YOU'RE CALLING FOR INCREASED TAXES OF THE WEALTHIEST NEW YORKERS?

IT'S NOT THAT SIMPLE, BUT THAT IS A PART OF IT.

GETTING THE FUNDS FROM WHERE WE KNOW PEOPLE CAN AFFORD TO PAY IT AND NOT CUTTING SERVICES WHERE PEOPLE ACTUALLY NEED TO LIVE.

IT'S ABOUT CIVIC RESPONSIBILITY.

IT'S ABOUT DOING WHAT YOU CAN WITH WHAT YOU HAVE WHERE YOU ARE.

ALL OF US HAVE TO DO THAT, INCLUDING THOSE WHO HAVE MADE BILLIONS OF DOLLARS THE PAST YEAR DURING THE PANDEMIC.

OKAY.

YOU MENTIONED THE FACT THAT WE'RE GOING TO BE GETTING BILLIONS OF DOLLARS FROM THE FEDS AS A RESULT OF THE COVID RELIEF.

WHAT ARE WE GETTING FROM THE STATE IN THE NEW BUDGET THAT'S SUPPOSED TO BE SIGNED NEXT MONTH?

VERY CONCERNED ABOUT THAT, AND WE KNOW THERE'S A LOT OF THINGS GOING ON IN ALBANY RIGHT NOW.

WE DON'T WANT TO LOSE FOCUS OF THE MOST IMPORTANT BUDGET THAT MOST OF US HAVE PROBABLY SEEN.

UNFORTUNATELY, EVEN BEFORE THE PANDEMIC, PEOPLE MAY NOT KNOW THAT THE GOVERNOR WAS TRYING TO CUT MEDICAID, THE GOVERNOR WAS UNDERCUTTING RESOURCES TO THE SCHOOLS, FORCING LOCALITIES TO MAKE CUTS TO SERVICES, TO MAKE IT SEEM LIKE THERE WAS A BALANCED BUDGET.

THERE'S A LOT OF THINGS WE HAVE TO REPAIR.

THE MONEY WE GET FROM THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT MAY BRING US BACK ABOUT TO WHERE WE WERE BUT THAT WASN'T ENOUGH.

THIS IS WHY WE SHOULD LOOK UP AND SUPPORT THE INVEST IN NEW YORK PLAN, BECAUSE IT REALLY HELPS US KEEP THOSE SOCIAL NET SERVICES WHERE IT NEEDS TO BE SO THAT WE CAN REALLY REBOUND AND EVERYBODY HELPS REBOUND.

YOU MENTIONED THE GOVERNOR, SWITCHING GEARS.

WHAT'S YOUR POSITION ON WHAT THE GOVERNOR SHOULD DO REGARDING THE SCANDALS, SEXUAL HARASSMENT, THE NURSING HOME SCANDALS SURROUNDING HIM?

ARE YOU ONE OF THE PUBLIC OFFICIALS CALLING FOR HIM TO RESIGN?

I MEAN, I'VE BEEN QUITE CLEAR FOR A WHILE THAT I THINK THIS IS NOT THE GOVERNOR WE NEEDED RIGHT NOW IN THE STATE OF NEW YORK, AND WELL BEFORE THE PANDEMIC.

THAT HASN'T CHANGED.

WHAT WE'VE SEEN, THE BEHAVIOR THAT IS BEING ACCUSED, IS ABHORRENT.

THERE HAS TO BE ACCOUNTABILITY.

BUT FOR MANY REASONS INCLUDING THAT, WHETHER IT WAS PAY TO PLAY FOR HOUSING OR PAY TO PLAY FOR NURSING HOMES, WHETHER IT'S THE BUFFALO BILLION, WHETHER IT'S THE MISMANAGEMENT DUE TO PANDEMIC IN BETWEEN THE GREAT PRESS CONFERENCES THAT COST PEOPLE LIVES, I DON'T THINK THE GOVERNOR SHOULD BE THE GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK.

I THINK IT WOULD BE GREAT --

YOU'RE CALLING FOR HIM TO RESIGN?

NO, I THINK IT WOULD BE GREAT IF HE RESIGNED, BUT I WANT TO BE CLEAR.

I RAN AGAINST HIM ON THESE VERY SAME THINGS.

SO THIS IS FROM YEARS AGO.

I'VE BELIEVED OVER A LONG TIME THIS GOVERNOR WAS HURTING NEW YORK STATE.

SO WHEN YOU RAN AGAINST HIM, YOU RAN FOR LAWSUIT GANTT GOVERNOR FOUR YEARS AGO.

YOU DIDN'T RUN FOR MAYOR.

SOME PEOPLE ARE CALLING FOR YOU TO RUN FOR MAYOR.

ARE YOU CONSIDERING THE POSSIBILITY OF RUNNING FOR GOVERNOR NEXT YEAR?

WHETHER CUOMO IS ON THE BALLOT OR NOT?

I'M HONORED THAT PEOPLE EVEN MENTION ME FOR MAYOR, FOR GOVERNOR.

I'M SURE A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE THE OPPOSITE OPINION RIGHT NOW.

IT'S RIGHT NOW I'M RUNNING FOR PUBLIC ADVOCATE FOR THE CITY OF NEW YORK, FOCUSED ON PUSHING POLICIES LIKE THE RENEWED DEAL FOR ALL NEW YORKERS.

ARE YOU ENDORSING OR GOING TO BE ENDORSING ANY OF THE MAYORAL CANDIDATES BEFORE THE JUNE PRIMARY?

RIGHT NOW WE'RE OPEN TO ALL THE CANDIDATE WHO DOES ARE REACHING OUT AND WE CAN HELP ON ANY POLICY IDEAS.

AGAIN, I THINK THE BEST THING WE CAN DO RIGHT NOW IS HELP PUSH AND HELP ENCOURAGE COURAGE WHEN WE HAVE TO HAVE THESE DISCUSSIONS AROUND PUBLIC SAFETY, AROUND HOW WE GET BACK TO BETTER THAN NORMAL, AND THAT'S THE POSITION WE'RE PLAYING RIGHT NOW.

LESS THAN 30 SECONDS.

A YEAR FROM NOW, ARE WE STILL GOING TO BE GETTING OUT OF THE RUBBLE FROM COVID?

OR ARE GLIMMERS OF THE VISION, THE BOLD VISION THAT YOU HAVE, GOING TO BE ALREADY BE SEEN?

LESS THAN 30 SECONDS.

I BELIEVE THERE ARE ALWAYS GLIMMERS OF HOPE, AND THERE'S SOME HERE NOW.

WE HAVE TO HAVE THE COURAGE TO TURN THOSE GLIMMERS OF HOPE INTO REALITY.

AND THE RENEWED DEAL IS A GREAT PLATFORM TO ACTUALLY GET THAT TO OCCUR.

ALL RIGHT.

PUBLIC ADVOCATE JAMANI WILLIAMS, ALWAYS A PLEASURE TO TALK TO YOU, THANK YOU.

THANK YOU, PEACE AND BLESSINGS.

LOVE AND LIGHT TO YOU AND EVERYONE WATCHING.

> WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M RAFAEL PI ROMAN.

SOARING HEIGHTS IN THE LAST YEARS, THANKS IN PART TO CONSTRUCTION WORKERS.

AMIDST THIS BUILDING BOOM, DOZENS HAVE DIED ON THE JOB DESPITE THE REGULATIONS INTENDED TO KEEP THEM SAFE.

WORKSITE ACCIDENTS CONTINUE TO HAPPEN AT JOBS ACROSS THE COUNTRY.

A NEW FILM 'BUILDING THE AMERICAN DREAM' IS GIVING US A FIRSTHAND LOOK AT THE ABUSE OF IMMIGRANT LABOR AND THE FIGHT FOR FAIR WORKING CONDITIONS.

AIRING AS PART OF 'VOICES,' THE ACCLAIMED PBS DOCUMENTARY SERIES PRODUCED BY LATINO PUBLIC BROADCASTING, THE FILM TAKES US TO TEXAS AND SHOWS THE DOWNSIDE OF PRIORITIZING BUSINESS OVER WORKERS.

HERE'S A PREVIEW.

1 IN 5 TEXAS CONSTRUCTION WORKERS ARE SUBJECT TO WORKPLACE INJURY OR FATALITY.

THESE ARE FOLKS WHO WORK 10 HOURS DOING THE HARDEST JOB YOU CAN POSSIBLY DO.

> JOINING US NOW AS PART OF OUR 'CHASING THE DREAM' INITIATIVE ON POVERTY AND OPPORTUNITY IN AMERICA IS THE FILM'S PRODUCER AND DIRECTOR CHELSEA HERNANDEZ.

WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

GOOD TO BE HERE.

CHELSEA, FIRST OF ALL, WHAT DREW YOU TO THIS PARTICULAR ISSUE AND WHAT ULTIMATELY HEAD YOU TO MAKE A FILM ABOUT IT?

SURE.

SO I WAS ATTENDING COLLEGE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS BACK IN 2009, AND WHILE I WAS ATTENDING, SOME SCHOOLS THERE, THERE WAS A CONSTRUCTION ACCIDENT NEAR CAMPUS.

AND THREE WORKERS HAD FALLEN TO THEIR DEATHS AFTER THEIR SCAFFOLD HAD COLLAPSED.

SO THAT KEEIND OF WOKE ME UP TO REALIZE THAT THE WORKERS WHO WERE BUILDING MY HOMETOWN WERE DYING OR BEING INJURED AT THE JOB.

AND I FOUND THIS ORGANIZATION, CO-WORKERS DEFENSE PROJECT, AND THAT'S WHEN I HAD LEARNED THAT TEXAS WAS THE DEADLIEST STATE FOR CONSTRUCTION AND THAT NEARLY 500,000 -- HALF THE WORKFORCE WAS UNDOCUMENTED.

I WAS SHOCKED THAT THIS WAS HAPPENING IN MY HOMETOWN.

AND HAVING IT ACROSS THE STATE, REALLY, AND WANTED TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

SO I STARTED FILMING IN 2014 AND FILMED FOR ABOUT FOUR YEARS.

MOST OF THE WORKERS IN THE FILM ARE UNDOCUMENTED.

NOT ALL, BUT MOST.

OF COURSE, THAT'S WHAT MAKES THEM SO INCREDIBLY VULNERABLE TO ABUSE AND TO EXPLOITATION, RIGHT?

AS FAR AS NOW?

YEAH.

IMMIGRANT WORKERS ARE MORE AT RISK OF BEING INJURED ON THE JOB, FACING WAGE STOPS MORE THAN THEIR AMERICAN COHORTS, AND THAT'S JUST THE REALITY OF THE INDUSTRY.

THIS CULTURE OF THE WORKPLACE HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR A LONG TIME.

TEXAS IS THE ONLY STATE IN THE COUNTRY THAT DOESN'T REQUIRE THE COMPANIES TO PROVIDE WORKMAN'S COMPENSATION.

AND SO I THINK THAT LEADS TO A LOT OF EXPLOITATION ON THE JOB, ESPECIALLY TO IMMIGRANTS.

YOU KNOW, AS THE FILM PROGRESSES, THE WORKERS IN YOUR FILM BEGIN TO ORGANIZE, BEGIN TO FIGHT BACK, AND HAVE SOME SUCCESSES.

I DON'T WANT TO GIVE TOO MUCH AWAY.

THERE'S ONE PARTICULAR WORKER WHO'S VERY ACTIVE AND VERY IMPRESSIVE.

AND JUST AFTER SHE'S HAD SOME SUCCESS, SHE GETS PICKED UP BY I.C.E.

WAS THAT A COINCIDENCE, OR RETALIATION?

YEAH, I'M NOT SURE IF IT WAS IN REGARDS TO HER COMING OUT AND COMPLAINING ABOUT NOT BEING PAID.

BUT REALLY, IT'S THE FEAR THAT MOST IMMIGRANTS FACE, ESPECIALLY UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS, IS THE FEAR OF BEING DEPORTED.

SO NOT ONLY DOES SHE GO TO WORK EVERY DAY TO A DANGEROUS SITE WHERE SHE COULD POTENTIALLY GET INJURED OR DIE ON THE JOB, BUT ALSO FACE WAGE THEFT, WHICH SHE WAS GOING THROUGH.

BUT ALSO DRIVING HOME OR DRIVING TO THE GROCERY STORE OR PICKING UP HER KIDS.

SHE COULD POTENTIALLY BE DEPORTED.

IT'S AMAZING.

THERE ARE A NUMBER OF VERY DRAMATIC STORIES IN THE FILM, VERY CAPTIVATING.

THERE'S ONE WHERE YOU FOLLOW A FAMILY WHOSE SON DIED FROM HEAT EXHAUSTION.

HE WAS WORKING IN OVER 100-DEGREE TEMPERATURES WITHOUT A BREAK.

SO THE FAMILY GOES TO THE DALLAS CITY COUNCIL, PUSHING FOR AN ORDINANCE THAT ANDS FOR -- THAT REQUIRES A 10-MINUTE BREAK EVERY FOUR HOURS, EXTREMELY MODEST.

I DON'T KNOW ABOUT YOU BUT I WAS SO SURPRISED TO HEAR CITY COUNCILMEMBERS ARGUE AGAINST THAT.

I WAS SURPRISED AND ANGERED.

AND I WONDER, WAS THAT YOUR REACTION AS YOU WERE WITNESSING THIS?

IT REALLY WAS.

I MEAN, I WASN'T SO MUCH SURPRISED THAT THEY WERE -- THEY HAD THIS ATTITUDE TOWARDS WORKERS AND TOWARDS REGULATIONS OF BUSINESSES AFTER RESEARCHING YEARS BEFORE WE STARTED PICKING UP THE CAMERA.

I KNEW THAT THE BUSINESS -- OR THE POLITICAL SECTOR WAS DEFINITELY ON BOARD WITH LITTLE REGULATION AND WANTED BUSINESSES TO FLOURISH AND WASN'T LOOKING OUT FOR THE LITTLE GUY, THE EMPLOYEE.

BUT I WAS REALLY SHOCKED THAT THEY WERE SAYING SOME PRETTY MEAN STUFF IN FRONT OF THE FAMILY, WHO JUST LOST THEIR SON TO HEATSTROKE ON THE JOB, CALLING THEM AND THE GROUP THAT WERE THERE FIGHTING FORREST BREAKS CHARLATANS, TO QUIT TELLING BUSINESS NO.

THAT WAS REALLY SHOCKING TO ME, THAT THEY WERE JUST SO OPEN ABOUT IT IN A PUBLIC FORUM.

IT WAS A PUBLIC CITY COUNCIL HEARING BEING RECORDED, MEDIA WAS THERE.

SO THAT WAS REALLY SHOCKING TO ME.

BUT I THINK IT WAS ALSO EMBLEMATIC OF HOW GOVERNMENT AND THE INDUSTRY WORKS TOGETHER IN THE STATE.

YOU KNOW, INSULTS ASIDE, THE FUNDAMENTAL ARGUMENT THAT IS THESE COUNCILMEMBERS ARE MAKING, AND THAT TEXAS -- TEXAS BUSINESS AND GOVERNMENT TENDS TO MAKE, THAT LOOK, TEXAS HAS HAD ITS ECONOMIC TEXAS, THE TEXAS MIRACLE, BECAUSE IT HAS SO FEW REGULATIONS, BECAUSE IT HAS SUCH A RELATIVELY CHEAP AND DOCILE WORKFORCE.

AND IF THEY LOSE THOSE ADVANTAGES, THEN EVERYBODY LOSES, INCLUDING THE WORKERS.

HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO THAT ARGUMENT?

YEAH, I THINK IT'S REALLY NOT TRUE.

YOU KNOW, IN TEXAS THERE'S A LARGE SHORTAGE OF WORKERS.

AND MANY HAVE FLED BACK TO THEIR HOME COUNTRIES BECAUSE OF FEAR OF RETALIATION, FEAR OF DEPORTATION, ESPECIALLY IN OUR CURRENT TIMES WHERE WE HAVE A PRESIDENT WHO IS SPEWING ANTI-IMMIGRANT RHETORIC TO THE PUBLIC.

BUT, YOU KNOW, THIS MYTH OF THEM TAKING AWAY JOBS OR, YOU KNOW, IF WE ADD ON MORE REGULATION, BUSINESSES AREN'T GOING TO COME -- I MEAN, OFTEN IN DALLAS, BOTH NOW HAVE REST BREAK ORDINANCES AND COMPANIES CONTINUE TO FLOURISH.

SO WE DON'T SEE A LACK OF BOOM THAT IS HAPPENING IN THIS STATE.

AND IN REALITY, I THINK IT COULD REALLY ADD TO THE WORKFORCE AND HELP FILL THAT SHORTAGE OF WORKERS IF PEOPLE KNOW THAT THEY'RE GOING TO A SAFE WORK ENVIRONMENT, THAT THEY WON'T GET KILLED ON THE JOB, MAYBE THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY COULD ACTUALLY EXPAND AND REALLY DO WELL AT PROTECTING THEIR WORKERS.

YOU KNOW, ONE OF THE THINGS THAT YOUR FILM DOES SO WELL, 'AMERICAN DREAM' IS IN THE TITLE.

THAT'S A PHRASE THAT OFTEN BY GENERATIONS OF AMERICANS IS A CLICHE, BUT CERTAINLY NOT FOR THE PEOPLE THAT YOU FILM.

FOR THE PEOPLE THAT YOU FILM, THE AMERICAN DREAM IS VERY REAL.

NOT ONLY THAT, THEY ARE ALREADY BUILDING THE AMERICAN DREAMS IN THEIR LIVES, EVEN WITH ALL THE OBSTACLES THAT THEY FACE.

YOU SHOW THAT VERY SUBTLY.

YOU DON'T TALK ABOUT IT BUT YOU SHOW IT.

BECAUSE THE FAMILIES ARE DOING WELL, THEY'RE HARD WORKING, AND THEY'RE KIND OF CONSERVATIVE.

AMERICAN AS APPLE PIE, OZZIE AND HARRIET, MUCH MOST OF THAN MOST AMERICANS ARE.

THAT'S THE IRONY, ISN'T IT?

BECAUSE THESE PEOPLE WOULDN'T BE ORGANIZING AND FIGHTING IF THEY DIDN'T HAVE TO.

THEY ARE WORKERS, CONSERVATIVE, THEY SAY THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE.

IT'S IRONIC THAT IT'S THE CONSERVATIVES WHO SHOULD SEE THEM AS CONSTITUENTS THAT ARE FIGHTING THEM.

THAT IS CHANGING IN TEXAS?

IT'S CHANGING NATIONALLY A LITTLE BIT.

WHAT'S YOUR EXPERIENCE?

YEAH, I MEAN, YOU'RE SO ON POINT.

THESE WORKERS ARE VERY PRIDEFUL TO BE IN THIS COUNTRY.

I KNOW CLAUDIA, ONE OF THE ELECTRICIANS FEATURED IN THE FILM, SHE WAS ALWAYS WEARING T-SHIRTS THAT HAD THE AMERICAN FLAG AND WAS KEEP OF BOASTING THESE PATRIOTIC IMAGES.

SO THEY'RE VERY PROUD TO BUILD WITH THEIR HANDS AND BUILD THESE BUILDINGS THAT MAKE UP THESE CITY SKYLINES.

BUT I DO THINK THAT, YOU KNOW, THERE IS A CHANGE.

AND YOU KNOW, CURRENTLY WITH THE PANDEMIC HAPPENING, YOU KNOW, PEOPLE ARE REALIZING THAT WORKERS ARE ESSENTIAL.

AND SO I THINK, ESPECIALLY CONSTRUCTION WORKERS, YOU KNOW, IN TEXAS CONSTRUCTION WORKERS WERE WORKING THROUGH THE PANDEMIC.

THEY WERE CONSIDERED BY THE GOVERNOR AS ESSENTIAL BACK IN APRIL.

BUT KNOWING THAT THEY DON'T HAVE -- THEY DO HAVE THE SAFE WORKING CONDITIONS BEFORE THE PANDEMIC, AND WHO'S TO SAY THEY WON'T BE PROVIDED A SAFE WORKING CONDITION NOW IN THE PANDEMIC.

SO I THINK PEOPLE ARE REALIZING THAT WORKERS ARE IN DIRE SITUATIONS AND NEED BETTER WORKING CONDITIONS.

SO I DO THINK IT IS CHANGING AS FAR AS THE ATTITUDE TO PROTECT WORKERS AND HAVE THAT PATRIOTISM FOR THE COUNTRY, BUT FOR THE WORKERS THEMSELVES FIRST.

QUICKLY, I KNOW THE FILM'S ABOUT TEXAS, NOT NEW YORK.

BUT YOU KNOW A LITTLE BIT ABOUT.

NEW YORK IS CONSIDERED A PROGRESSIVE STATE.

HOW DOES IT COMPARE IN TERMS OF WORKER SAFETY, GENERAL TREATMENT OF UNDOCUMENTED WORKERS?

YEAH, I MEAN, NEW YORK DEFINITELY HAS MORE UNION WORKERS THAN TEXAS.

I BELIEVE TEXAS IS ABOUT UNIONIZED.

SO IT'S A LITTLE HARDER TO FIGHT FOR LAWS AND THAT'S WHY WORKER CENTERS ARE REALLY IMPORTANT, YOU KNOW, COLLABORATE WITH UNIONS TO PUSH FOR LEGISLATION.

NEW YORK'S A LITTLE DIFFERENT BECAUSE THEY DO HAVE, YOU KNOW, A BIGGER UNION WORKFORCE.

HOWEVER, SINCE THE CITY BUDGET, THE STATE BUDGET, HAS KIND OF DECREASED, YOU KNOW, THEIR FUNDING FOR CITY PROJECTS, THAT'S WHEN YOU TEND TO SEE COMPANIES, YOU KNOW, DEVELOPERS, HIRING CONTRACTORS THAT ARE NOT UNIONIZED, THAT DON'T HAVE A RAPPORT, AND THEY END UP, YOU KNOW, GETTING WORKERS ON THE STREETS WHO DON'T HAVE ANY TRAINING.

I DO KNOW, THOUGH IN NEW YORK, I THINK THEY JUST PASSED THE LEGISLATION NOW WHERE CONSTRUCTION WORKERS DO HAVE TO GET AN OSHA 30 TRAINING, WHICH IS REALLY GREAT FOR THE CITY IN MAKING SURE THAT PEOPLE ARE WORKING CORRECTLY, PROVIDING THAT SAFE ENVIRONMENT AMONG EACH OTHER.

BUT, YOU KNOW, YOU CAN SEE, YOU KNOW, WHEN THERE'S A LACK OF SAFETY ON THE JOB, YOU KNOW, YOU'LL HAVE MAJOR ACCIDENTS HAPPEN.

AND, YOU KNOW, NEW YORK, THEY'VE HAD ACCIDENTS INCREASE OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS, AND THERE'S SOME HORRENDOUS CRANE ACCIDENTS THAT HAPPENED THERE, AND IT MAKES YOU WONDER WHAT KIND OF WORKING CONDITIONS WERE THOSE WORKERS IN IN THE FIRST PLACE?

QUICKLY, 20 SECONDS LEFT.

ARE YOU OPTIMISTIC ABOUT THE FUTURE OF WORKERS IN AMERICA IN GENERAL, PARTICULARLY THE UNDOCUMENTED WORKERS?

YEAH, I'M VERY OPTIMISTIC.

YOU KNOW, I DON'T THINK IT'S GOING TO CHANGE OVERNIGHT.

BUT I THINK THERE'S A GROWING MOVEMENT.

AND I HOPE THIS FILM ENCOURAGES OTHER WORKERS TO STAND UP AGAINST EXPLOITATION AS WELL AND PUSH FOR MORE CHANGES IN LAWS.

CHELSEA, IT'S A WONDERFUL FILM, I HOPE A LOT OF PEOPLE SEE IT.

I KNOW IT'S GOING TO HAVE A GOOD IMPACT.

THANK YOU SO MUCH, IT'S BEEN A PLEASURE TO HAVE YOU HERE.

THANK YOU.

THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

'METROFOCUS' IS MADE POSSIBLE BY -- SUE AND EDGAR WACHENHEIM III, SYLVIA A. AND SIMON B. POYTA PROGRAMING ENDOWMENT TO FIGHT ANTI-SEMITISM.

THE PETER G. PETERSON AND JOAN GANY FUND.

BERNARD AND DENISE SCHWARTZ, BARBARA HOPE ZUCKERBERG, JANET PRINDLE SEIDLER, JODY AND JOHN ARNHOLD, CHERYL AND PHILIP MILSTEIN FAMILY, JUDY AND JOSH WESTON, DR. ROBERT C. AND TINA SOHN FOUNDATION, THE JPB FOUNDATION.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, The Peter G. Peterson and Joan Ganz Cooney Fund, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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