Today’s news:

Flushing women cry foul over getting fired for unionizing

A pair of Flushing women who said they were fired after standing up for their labor rights rang in International Working Women’s Day Monday by protesting in front of the restaurant where they said they once waited tables 12 hours a day, six days a week for $400 a month.

More than 30 people rallied Monday afternoon in front of Gwangzhou Restaurant at 136-59 37th Ave. to speak out against the cases of Li Rong Gao, 29, and Xia Hong Zheng, 33, who said they were let go June 2, 2009, when the eatery got word they were imploring other workers to join Local 318 of the Restaurant Worker’s Union.

The women’s claims could not be independently verified, but the National Labor Relations Board will hold a hearing April 10 to consider a claim the union filed on Nov. 20 contending the restaurant violated the pair’s labor rights.

Rather than fire them outright, the restaurant closed for a day on June 1, 2009, reopening the next day with its new name and hiring all of its staff members back except for Gao and Zheng, according to the union’s complaint filed with the NLRB and Josephine Lee,, an organizer with the Justice Will Be Served labor rights campaign.Justice Will Be Served is a group of Chinese workers and Local 318 which is assisting the women in their efforts.

No English-speaking staff were available to comment on behalf of the restaurant Monday or Tuesday afternoon.

“When they asked why they didn’t hire them back, their boss said because they went to the union and they were going to file a lawsuit,” Lee said, translating for Gao. “I’m not scared to stand up and I just want to make sure we get justice in the end.”

The owners then told other Flushing business owners not to hire them, effectively blacklisting them in their own community, the women said. Zheng, who has two children, said she could not find work for three months after the firing and that she had to travel to Chinatown to find a job. Gao, who has one child, has not found a job and is on unemployment.

Lee said many workers in Flushing are exploited for years but are too afraid to speak up. But this case is different, she said, because these two young mothers chose to try to do something about their lot and their case has made its way to the NLRB, which will focus on whether the women’s rights were infringed upon when they were not rehired.

The women also plan to file a lawsuit against the restaurant for back wages at some point in the future, but Lee said the details have yet to be ironed out.

Lee said the fact Gao and Zheng stepped forward is a sign of changing times in Flushing.

“For people to come forward, now it’s more and more common, but in Flushing it’s more of a breakthrough because it’s a more recent development,” she said. “Now more and more workers are coming forward to claim their rights.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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