Announcing Criminal Prosecution of Wage Theft!

As I hope you all have seen, the District Attorney, the County Attorney, the Sheriff’s Department, and the El Paso Police Department recently announced that they will now be criminally prosecuting wage theft cases!!  A big thank you to Senator Jose Rodriguez, Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project (especially Chris Benoit and Tom Power) and Lidia Cruz, member of the Labor Justice Committee for tirelessly pushing for this important step!  Because of their work, local law enforcement have agreed to implement the existing laws to criminally charge employers who intentionally don’t pay their workers, punishable by hefty fines and jail time!

District Attorney Jaime Esparza, State Senator Jose Rodriguez, and Labor Justice Committee member Gerardo Hernanez

Committee member Lidia Cruz, speaking to the press, surrounded by County Attorney Jo Ann Bernal, State Senator Jose Rodriguez, and Border Network for Human Rights organizer Claudia Diaz

But our work isn’t over.  As you’ve seen on our site, we’re ALSO pushing for the El Paso City Council to pass a local ordinance against wage theft.  In our conversations with law enforcement and the District Attorney’s offices, we have come to realize criminal prosecution will only occur in the most egregious wage theft cases, which means the majority of cases will not be considered appropriate for criminal prosecution.  If we don’t push the City of El Paso to pass a civil ordinance against wage theft, many workers will still have no where to turn to recover their unpaid wages and this epidemic will continue.

Coalition against Wage Theft! John Ruiz, with the Building and Union Trades, Committee member Mary, Paso del Norte law clerk Stephanie Gharakhanian, and Annunciation House volunteer Greg Baltz

We ask you to continue signing the petitions so that we can show the El Paso City Council just how much of the El Paso community is demanding change!

For a roundup of the press regarding today’s exciting announcement

New law will ease prosecution of employers who cheat workers out of wages

By Adriana M. Chávez/ El Paso Times
Posted 11/17/2011 12:00:00 AM MST

A new state law will make it easier for authorities to prosecute employers who cheat workers out of wages.

State Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, authored Senate Bill 1024, which took effect on Sept. 1. The law prohibits theft of wages.

State Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, along with El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza, El Paso county Attorney Jo Anne Bernal, Police Chief Greg Allen, Sheriff Richard Wiles and members of Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project and the Labor Justice Committee hosted a news conference Wednesday morning to announce a new law that targets employer wage theft. (Ruben R Ramirez / El Paso Times)

Rodríguez, along with El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza, El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal, police Chief Greg Allen, Sheriff Richard Wiles and members of the Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project and the Labor Justice Committee hosted a news conference Wednesday to announce the initiative.

Rodríguez said the collaborative effort will protect workers from “unscrupulous” employers who shortchange workers out of their hard-earned wages.

Esparza said that in the past, such cases were difficult to prosecute. That should change under the new law.

“It’s an important initiative for us. These cases are actually more complicated than people think,” Esparza said.

Wage theft between $20 and $500 is considered a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a jail term of at least 180 days and a maximum fine of $2,000, while wage theft between $500 and $1,500 is considered a Class A misdemeanor punishable by at least a year in jail and a maximum $4,000 fine.

Wage theft between $1,500 and $20,000 is considered a felony punishable by a state jail term between 180 days and a year, and a maximum $10,000 fine.

Rodríguez said that according to a study by the Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project, the Border Network for Human Rights and the Labor JusticeCommittee, one in every five low-wage workers didn’t receive minimum wage, and one in every eight workers was a victim of wage theft.

Both Wiles and Allen pledged to have investigators look into wage theft cases.

“From a law enforcement perspective, I’m hoping that the message gets out (to employers) to not even do it,” Wiles said. “We stand committed to taking the appropriate action.”

During the news conference, Lidia Cruz, a member of the committee, presented Wiles with two wage theft cases to investigate.

The idea for the bill came after at least two years of discussions between civil rights officials, labor committee members and Esparza and Rodríguez. Gerardo Hernandez, a member of the Labor Justice Committee, said members meet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 602 S. Oregon, to discuss wage theft complaints and determine which cases they will provide assistance in.

“We’ve seen the abuse and retaliation from employers against those who are fighting for their rights,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said workers who complain about wage theft are mostly Hispanics, and the majority of them are Mexican.

 

Officials Vow to Enforce Wage Theft Law

By ABC-7 Reporter Celina Avila
POSTED: 5:16 pm MST November 16, 2011
UPDATED: 5:49 pm MST November 16, 2011

EL PASO, Texas — A new law goes after those who don’t pay their employees fairly went into effect in May, and local law enforcement say employers will face consequences if they don’t comply.

The wage theft law was authored by El Paso state Sen. Jose Rodriguez.

“I didn’t have money to pay for an attorney,” said Lidia Cruz, who said her employer refused to pay her two years ago.

Cruz represents a startling statistic in our community: one in eight workers is a victim of wage theft.

“They’re scared. They don’t know their rights,” said Cruz, who is now with the Labor Justice Committee.

“We’re talking about day laborers. We’re talking about individuals who work in the construction industry, in the landscaping industry and other sectors in our economy,” Rodriguez said.

The new state law makes it easier to prosecute these usually difficult cases.

“We now have the tool from a law enforcement perspective to look at each and every one of these cases,” said Sheriff Richard Wiles.

Cruz said she’s now working to recuperate nearly $1 million in unpaid wages to El Paso workers.

“They count with those $20 to $30 a day,” Ruiz said.

“Maybe those victims are vulnerable, but just because they’re vulnerable, state law does not permit you to take advantage of them and we will pursue those cases,” District Attorney Jaime Esparza said.

Breaking the law can range from a Class B misdemeanor to a state jail felony.

For more information on how to protect yourself, call the Labor Justice Committee at 915-532-3799.

Wage Theft is a Crime

By STAFF
Wednesday, November 16, 2011 – 4:41 pm

EL PASO – When you work, you expect to be paid, but what happens when you aren’t? It’s a problem we see to many times here in El Paso, but now there’s a solution.

A new law is standing up for people who work hard for their money, and often time end up stiffed by their employers.

“Every week we see dozens of cases coming into our office,” Christopher Benoit said.

Unpaid workers turn to Benoit and the Paso Del Norte Civil Rights Project for help. He says the problem is so bad there are “close to a million dollars in unpaid wages, in under two years.” That’s in the Borderland alone, and it’s probably because we have some vulnerable workers.

“Whether a person here is documented or undocumented, it is still a crime to not pay that person appropriate wages they are entitled to under the law,” County Attorney JoAnn Bernal said.

She says the new law makes it easier to prosecute wage theft as a crime, and today local law enforcers made it clear; they will work together to investigate and prosecute wage theft cases in El Paso County.

“To those people who think that they can get work out of people and not pay them, we stand together and are committed to take appropriate action,” El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles said, shortly before he was handed a folder with his first two cases.

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One Response to Announcing Criminal Prosecution of Wage Theft!

  1. [...] we just wanted to throw up the rest of the press we generated surrounding the recent announcement that Wage Theft will now be prosecuted criminally. [...]

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