Chinese workers rally against job training program

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Downtown Express photo by Lorenzo Ciniglio

Protesters outside the Wildcat Service Corp. last week.

More than 50 Chinese garment workers rallied last Wednesday outside their training school in Lower Manhattan and some protesters clashed with police in a demonstration against what workers called the school’s unfair cancellation of their computer classes.

Two weeks ago, the workers completed an eight-week English as a second language class at Wildcat Service Corporation at 17 Battery Place, part of a post-9/11 relief program to help workers who lost their jobs or significant portions of their income after the terror attacks. The students said that when they returned to Wildcat last Tuesday to continue their instruction, they were told the computer class was cancelled and were forced to leave the building under the threat of police removal.

This rude treatment and the loss of their anticipated class left many workers irate, group representatives said.

“We were very angry and upset—we protested right then and there and they ignored us,” said Yeshun Qun, 51, through an interpreter. “I worked in garment factories for more than 20 years, and I never had any chances to learn.”

Wildcat officials said that the students were never guaranteed the five-week computer vocational training. Admission to the course would be based on the results of an English exam given to the students, but widespread cheating on the exam prevented the school from gauging whether students had sufficient English skills to benefit from the computer course, officials said.

As demonstrators chanted “shame on Wildcat” outside, about eight Wildcat employees met in a second-floor conference room with three student representatives and an interpreter from the Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association. Several police officers had barred protestors from entering the building until Wildcat officials led the small group inside for negotiations. There, Wildcat staff tried to clear up what they called a misunderstanding of the program’s scope.

“We have no desire to stop you from progressing from English to other vocational skills, but what’s absolutely necessary is we should have a tool to measure who should go on to vocational training,” said Myra Page, director of the training center at Wildcat. “Because we discovered the test had been duplicated and the point that happened the test had been compromised, you can no longer consider those scores,” she added.

Page said that while the extent of the cheating was unclear, instructors had no choice but to invalidate the scores of all students. Instead of a retest, students will receive individual evaluations starting next week, said Andres Roura, director of public affairs for Wildcat. Those who qualify will be admitted to further training, he said.

Roura denied accusations that Wildcat had mistreated any students.

“No one was insulted, no one was cursed,” Roura said.

Chinese workers disagreed.

“It’s really unnecessary and abusive,” said Wei Chen, an organizer at the Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association. “I hope this doesn’t happen to other students.”

A spokesperson for the September 11th Fund, the organization that pays for the employee assistance program, said she was not aware of any similar incidents among the five other service providers engaged by the fund. All six providers offer a standard eight weeks of instruction followed by a provisional five weeks, said Jeanine Moss, the spokesperson. Even so, Moss said that signals could easily get scrambled.

“There’s a lot of misunderstandings when explaining programs and there’s a lot of rumors,” Moss said.


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