El Paso City Council Supports a Resolution Against Wage Theft!

A BIG thank you to the Coalition against Wage Theft and all of its supports and allies.  Thanks to our hard work, the El Paso City Council unanimously passed a resolution on Tuesday recognizing the severity of the wage theft epidemic in El Paso and committing to finding a local solution to fight this problem.  Of course, while it is a HUGE victory, we will keep pushing the City Council until we finally have an ordinance and workers in El Paso have somewhere to turn to recover their stolen wages.

The Coalition against Wage Theft includes:

Annunciation House
Asociación de Trabajadores Fronterizos
Border Network for Human Rights
Catholic Diocese of El Paso
El Paso Building and Construction Trades Council
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers LU 583
Labor Justice Committee
Laborers International Union of North America
Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project
Sheet Metal Workers Local 49

The Campaign’s supporters include:

Black El Paso Democrats
Border Agricultural Workers Project
Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Service
East Side Democrats
El Paso Grassroots
El Paso Stonewall Young Democrats
El Paso Young Democrats
Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Project
LionStar Blog

For pictures and our press release, see our facebook page!

Also, in case you missed it, here’s a roundup of the press coverage!

The City Takes its First Step against Wage Theft

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

One in every 8 El Paso workers has been the victim of wage theft, and one in every 5 workers is paid less than what the law says, which is why the City took its first step to control this epidemic that hits new victims every day.

Group Asks for Crackdown on El Paso Wage Theft

By ABC-7 Reporter Daniel Marin
Posted 1:25 pm MST November 29, 2011
Updated 10:41 am MST November 30, 2011

EL PASO, Texas — El Paso City Council signed off on a resolution against wage theft in the Sun City.

Low-income workers and their advocates brought signs with them to Tuesday’s City Council meeting. One woman told city representatives how she worked as a live-in housekeeper, earning less than minimum wage.

Advocates said while some may be quick to assume that most workers who find themselves the victims of wage theft are most likely in the country illegally, that’s not always the case.

Committee members Martin and Amalia with Paso del Norte staff member Tom Power. In the background are Shalini Thomas, member of the Labor Justice Committee, Greg Baltz, Annunciation House volunteer, and Gerardo Hernandez, member of the Labor Justice Committee (Courtesy of KVIA)

Marco Raposo of the Peace and Justice Ministry told ABC-7 that even if a worker is undocumented, it shouldn’t matter when it comes to his or her compensation.

“The law basically says if you work, then you need to be paid,” he said.

Raposo added that wage theft also hurts the city as a whole when employers fail to pay their fair share through “under the table” deals.

The advocates at Tuesday’s meeting hoped the city would be able to draft a local ordinance creating penalties against wage theft.

City Rep. Steve Ortega said while he supports the resolution, he isn’t quite ready to commit to an ordinance.

Ortega said he feels the state would be better equipped to handle a wage theft law.

Council members voted to send the idea of an ordinance to the city attorney’s office and the Governmental Affairs legislative review committee for further study.

Groups Ask for Local Solutions to Wage Theft

(For the original article in Spanish,  click here.)
Karla Guevara
El Diario de El Paso | 29-11-2011 | 23:57

One of every eight El Paso workers has been a victim of wage theft and one of every five workers was paid below minimum wage. For this reason, the City took the first step to control this epidemic that takes new victims every day.

The municipality considered a resolution that recognizes this problem and permits the City to explore local solutions, such as creating an ordinance that threatens abusive employers or that supports change in the state law to pursue the crime. The resolution was approved by unanimous vote. Susie Byrd and Michel Noe were the principal supports of the initiative.

“I don’t wish this on anyone. Employers think that they are doing you a favor and they forget that people work for necessity,” said Aracely Primero, a member of the Labor Justice Committee and who was a victim of wage theft who worked as a domestic worker on the West Side.

“I felt like I was in jail. I worked from six in the morning until ten at night without the ability to leave and at times I had to stay the night. For this reason, I decided to leave and when I asked for my final paycheck, my employer threatened to accuse me of robbery to the police,” she added.

Aracely calculates that the employer owes her some $9,000 for seven months of exploitation and even though she lost the hope of recovering that money, she hopes that her testimony will help others to defend themselves.

Chris Benoit, attorney for Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project and the Coalition Against Wage Theft, composed of several organizations, affirmed that Aracely’s situation occurs frequently and requires local measures. Even though there is a state law criminalizing the practice, the process is slow.

“People don’t have money to pay an attorney and the attorneys aren’t going to take many of these cases because there is not much money at stake. For this reason, we need local measures. For example, the City should not provide permits to businesses that violate these laws,” he said.

Currently, if an employee files a police report with the Police Department or Sheriff, the District Attorney can take the case and the employers can receive penalties including fines and even jail time.

Lidia Cruz, who works for the Coalition to help victims of these cases, affirmed that it is vital that workers document their hours and how much is owed and, if possible, that they find witnesses that can corroborate that they were working on the job.

“We won’t ask them whether they are documented. It doesn’t matter if they are undocumented, if a worker labors in Texas, they should be paid the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. If they are paid less than that, they are being robbed,” she added.

Indeed, the most vulnerable class of workers are domestic workers, but now wage theft is found in all industries including among older adults that are documented or citizens. But, Ms. Cruz added, the fear and ignorance keep victims from filing complaints.

Representative Dr. Michiel Noe said that wage theft, “does not only take away the dignity of workers, but also creates unfair competition with businesses that do follow the law.”

Noe hopes that in six months, the municipality has a clear idea of how to protect workers. The municipality will need to analyze to ensure that an ordinance is just for all and isn’t in conflict with state and federal law.

If you are a victim of wage theft, feel free to call Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project at (915) 532-3799.

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One Response to El Paso City Council Supports a Resolution Against Wage Theft!

  1. […] The petitions were given to the El Paso City Council on November 29th.  Thanks to your help, we were able to give them over 5,000 petitions signed by a broad spectrum of members of the El Paso Community! […]

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