New York is the city that never sleeps. But this renowned insomnia would not be possible without the more than 200,000 men and women who work the nightshift – the fry cooks and coffee jockeys, train conductors and cab hacks, cops, docs, and fishmongers selling cod by the crate. Inverting the natural rhythm of life, they keep the city running as it slows but never stops.

In our book, NIGHTSHIFT NYC, we tell the stories of New York City nightshift workers. This ethnography of the night investigates familiar sites, such as diners, delis and taxis, as well as some unexpected corners of the night, such as a walking tour of homelessness in Manhattan and a fishing boat out of Brooklyn. We show how the nightshift is more than simply out of phase, it is another social space altogether, highly structured, inherently subversive, and shot through with inequalities of power. NIGHTSHIFT NYC presents the narratives of those who sleep too little and work too much, revealing the soul of a city hidden in the graveyard shift of 24-hour commerce when the sun goes down and the lights come up.

But there is more to the story than found its way into the pages of the book. Here you'll find more stories of the night in New York City and around the country. And we hope you will add your own stories and comments in the months to come. Stay tuned and check back often...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

May Day

Friday is May first, May Day to those who’ve ever danced their way around a maypole.

In New York City this year, it’s the May Day Rally, a rally and march for worker and immigrant rights. Organized by the grassroots May 1st coalition, which hopes to win legalization and full rights for all workers, the rally is at 4p.m. and the march at 5p.m.

Consider marching for Juan, who used to work at the Cheyenne. That’s not his real name. An undocumented Mexican immigrant, he’s shielded by a pseudonym. When the diner closed, his bosses said he’d gone on to work at another of their restaurants. He didn’t. He’d always hoped to return to Mexico. Maybe he did. Maybe not. Here’s a bit of his story, from Chapter 18 of Nightshift NYC:

Juan, 43, wears a white chef’s shirt, checked chef’s pants and, when he goes out on deliveries, a navy Members Only style jacket. His short black hair stands up on end a bit, though tonight it’s slicked down with a good bit of gel.

At 2:30 a.m., he takes a break. He eats hungrily before he returns to the basement kitchen or out into the night for a delivery. His job here is an unremitting cycle of deliveries, dirty dishes, and piles of potatoes to wash before the morning rush. He has worked at the Cheyenne for two years, this time. Like many undocumented Mexican immigrants, Juan has moved back and forth across the border several times in his working life. With a family to support in Mexico, the US provides a good income but it will never be home.

In New York, Juan has only worked nightshift jobs. As he describes it, “I don’t know what the daytime is like in New York.” He works seven nights a week, 364 nights a year for $4 an hour. “It’s a lot of work,” he says. “I don’t like to work the night, but I have to work to take care of my family.” He’s smiling but he has giant bags under his

“I don’t speak English, only the numbers. It’s a problem, because customers ask me questions I don’t understand. I’ve never had the time to study English. I come home only to sleep, I get up to go to work, bathe, and go. That is my life. I am very tired, but I want to save a little more money.”

Nightshift workers like Juan need advocates. Especially in the current economy, when they are more likely to be laid off or paid even less. In New York City, nightshift workers are often immigrants. If they’re undocumented, they – and their dayshift counterparts – risk being fired, not hired at all, or exploited for cheap labor. As this City Limits article shows, this increases the likelihood that they cannot pay their rent, will become homeless, and cannot send money to their families back home.

The rally and march are not the only ways to support workers. Read more on their plight. Ask them their story. Be a nice customer. Tip well. Donate to Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, which supports restaurant workers and their families.

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