Today’s news:

Hispanic workers file suit against LI border church

Hispanic maintenance workers fired from an Elmont, L.I. church just over the Queens border filed a discrimination charge late last month, alleging the church’s pastor dismissed them because they do not speak English.

The church, located blocks from Cambria Heights at 631 Elmont Rd., attracts parishioners from Queens, including many Haitians. Its Web site says masses are held in six languages, including Creole and Spanish.

Five workers were fired July 19 after being informed by the Parish of St. Boniface’s new pastor, the Rev. Willie Gomes, that the church was in financial trouble. The workers claimed Gomes also told them he did not want employees who speak Spanish and with whom he cannot communicate.

“Gomes disregarded the fact that these maintenance employees had no problems in satisfactorily performing their jobs for years prior to his arrival at St. Boniface, even though his predecessor did not speak Spanish either,” said Nadia Marin-Molina, executive director of The Workplace Project, a Hempstead, L.I.-based organization that filed the charges on behalf of four of the five workers with the Nassau County Commission on Human Rights July 24.

The five dismissed workers had more than 22 years of combined service, Marin-Molina said, and did not need to speak English to perform their jobs.

About a dozen people, including the fired employees, handed out fliers in front of the church, informing parishioners about the situation Sunday morning. The employees were hoping to get the attention of the church and open discussions on the termination, said Jose Guzman, one of the former employees.

“We want to see if we can gain something like a meeting and see if we can speak with Rev. Gomes about the situation,” said Guzman, who had worked at the church for about four years.

The workers were informed July 8 they would be fired and were given $200 each in severance pay. When they requested a meeting with Gomes, he refused, they said. The pastor subsequently fired two Hispanic dietary workers and hired one new, full-time maintenance worker, who is white, the workers said.

“Since the church strives to help the poor make a better life for themselves, we hope that Pastor Gomes will reconsider his decision and that there will be justice for all involved,” said Jose Rosa Guzman, one of the fired workers.

An employee at St. Boniface directed calls about the workers to the Diocese of Rockville Centre, which governs the parish. In a statement, the diocese said the cuts in staffing were made solely because the parish is in financial distress.

The diocese said the five part-time maintenance workers were replaced with one full-time worker at a savings of more than $50,000. In the statement, the diocese said St. Boniface is one of the most ethnically diverse parishes in its jurisdiction and that “the decision to terminate the five part-time employees was done simply for financial reasons.”

But Marin-Molina insisted the workers were all full-time employees prior to their dismissal, regularly working 35-40 hours each week, and expressed hope that an agreement could be reached.

“While it is true that St. Boniface has economic difficulties, the budget should not be balanced through discriminatory firings of those workers who can least afford it,” she said.

Renaire Frierson, executive director of the Nassau County Commission on Human Rights, said it was investigating the discrimination charge. She said if the allegations are true, appropriate action would be taken.

-- Courtney Dentch and Adam Kramer contributed to this story

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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