Convenio Estatal de Trabajadores

Last weekend we had an amazing experience in Austin with Workers Defense Project and Interfaith Worker Justice!  Committee members Lidia Cruz and Shalini Thomas, along with Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project (PCRP) Economic Justice Advocate Tom Power spent the day in Austin for the first (hopefully annual!) meeting of Texas worker centers.  We got to hear from the other worker centers regarding their leadership development courses, the strategies they use to fight for worker justice in their own towns, and some of their recent victories.  We also had a great discussion that will help us all plan how we want to focus our energies and campaigns in the coming months.

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A HUGE thank you to Emily Timm and the rest of the PDL staff for a great day!

In other news, we have a new Mesa Directiva (Executive Committee).  As you may know, the Committee holds elections every 6 months to determine who will be our First and Second Representatives, Secretary, and Treasurer.  The Committee thought that the last Mesa Directiva was doing such a fantastic job that we voted almost unanimously to re-elect the current members.  Unfortunately, our Secretary, Rosa Chavez, had to decline the honor, so the Committee elected Omar Uribe to the position of Secretary.  Congratulations Omar and the rest of the Mesa Directiva!

From left to right, Treasurer Gerardo Hernandez, Secretary Omar Uribe, Second Representative Josefina Torres, and First Representative Lidia Cruz

Finally, 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.

Wage Theft: New Law Protects Employees

El Paso Times Editorial Board
Posted: 11/18/2011 12:00:00 AM MST

Cheating employees out of a fair day’s pay is, indeed, wage theft. But such incidents have been difficult to prosecute. “These cases are actually more complicated than people think,” El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza said.

Thus, it’s good news that a bill targeting wage thieves is now in effect. It was authored by El Paso state Sen. José Rodríguez and passed during the 2011 Texas legislative session.

Data provided by the Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project, the Border Network for Human Rights and the Labor Justice Committee show:

  • One in every five low-wage workers did not receive the mandated minimum wage.
  • One in every eight workers is a victim of wage theft.

Perhaps a reason for this is, as Esparza pointed out, it’s a difficult crime to prosecute. Gerardo Hernandez of the Labor Justice Committee explains further. He notes that workers who complain about wage theft are mostly Hispanic and the majority of them are Mexican.

At a special news conference called by Rodríguez and other law-enforcement leaders, there was a pledge to have sheriff’s deputies and police officers look into wage theft.

Sheriff Richard Wiles said, “I’m hoping that the message gets out (to employers) to not even do it.”

A conviction of wage theft can bring a fine of $500 and at least 180 days in jail if the theft is $500 or less — and much higher fines and jail terms for theft over $500.

This is a good new law because thievery on earned wages not only cheats an employee, but skews what is a mandatory wage scale that can have a negative impact on a city’s economy.

Denouncing Unpaid Wages

(For the video in Spanish,  click here.)
KINT News
November 16, 2011. 06:05 PM

Our community has a problem that has to do with wages, which in many occasions are not paid to our people.  It is for this reason that State Senator Jose Rodriguez collaborated with the District Attorney and the County Attorney, as well as the Sheriff and the Chief of Police, to create a strategy to investigate and apply the law to those who violate a new state law.

The state senator, Jose Rodriguez, said, “this law clarifies the existing law to ensure that police agencies and the District Attorneys can prosecute those employers who don’t pay their employees the wages they are owed and have the intention to steal from their workers.”  Starting today, you can report those employers who did not pay you the wages you were owed by law.  You can file these reports at any police station or Sheriff’s office.

First Two Employers Who Don’t Pay Are Sued

(For the original article in Spanish,  click here.)
Lorena Figueroa
El Diario de El Paso | 17-11-2011 | 23:57

The first two cases of wage “theft” in El Paso – and possibly in all of Texas – were presented yesterday to authorities, under the new state law SB 1024, which forces employers to pay minimum wage.

The “theft” consists of payment less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour or incomplete or nonpayment as per the agreement with workers.

The plaintiffs are two truckers, a woman and a man, who in separate occasions this year transported goods but their employers didn’t pay them, one of the leaders of the Labor Justice Committee, Lidia Cruz, said yesterday.

The civil organization, with the help of Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project, submitted complaints to the Police Department so they can complete their own investigation and present it to the District Attorney for prosecution.

A legal defender from Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project, Chris Benoit, said that the cases that were presented were the result of two years of pushing authorities to broaden the (sic).

During this period, this civil association has received complaints from “robbed” El Paso workers worth almost a million dollars.

The complaints have come primarily from day laborers, domestic workers, landscapers, and construction workers, who were hired informally and without a contract.

But in the last few months, this problem has been occurring to truckers as well, especially in the eastern part of the city, added Benoit.

The SB 1024 legislation, which was signed in to law at the end of May and went in to effect on September 1, gives victims of wage “theft” the legal tools necessary to recover their wages and closes a legal loophole in the Texas Penal Code which allowed abusive employers to avoid criminal charges.

The new legislation also punishes employers who don’t pay who don’t pay workers all of their promised wages with jail and monetary fines as a way to force them to pay what they owe, said El Paso State Senator Jose Rodriguez, who was the co-author of the legislation.

“This is a real problem on this border, because it doesn’t just affect workers who are robbed of their wages who then can’t provide for their families, but it also affects the economy,” he said.

He added that in El Paso, one in five low-wage workers do not receive minimum wage and one in eight workers is a victim of wage theft, based on a recent report by Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project, the Labor Justice Committee, and Border Network for Human Rights.

The District Attorney, Jaime Esparza, said that the new law will make sure that legal action against unscrupulous employers “will be more successful”.

“We will go after those employers who think that hiring workers doesn’t require paying them,” he advised.

He added that wage “theft” is a Class B misdemeanor if the theft is between 20 and 500 dollars or Class A misdemeanor if the theft is between 500 and 1,500 dollars.  The theft is considered a felony and is punishable by jail time if the theft is between 1,500 and 20,000 dollars.

The El Paso Sheriff’s department and the Police Department will be the offices that will accept complaints from victims, complete investigations and arrests if necessary, and present the cases to the District Attorney.

30 More Wage Theft Cases Submitted

(For the original article in Spanish,  click here.)
El Diario de El Paso | 18-11-2011 | 00:05

When Conny Ibarra and her sister Guadalupe got a job at a house in Central El Paso taking care of a 90-year-old woman and doing domestic work, they thought they would have the job for a while.

But in April, after almost a year of working, their employer decided to fire them without any explanation, in addition to threatening them and assaulting them in an attempt to intimidate them into not asking their wages, they said.

“It’s an injustice.  We don’t work for free,” expressed Conny, who said that she and her sister have tried in vain to recover more than $1,600 using all of the tools available to them.

The Ibarra’s case is one of among thirty cases that the Labor Justice Committee is prepared to present to authorities now that a new state law is in effect that would facilitate the arrest and criminal prosecution of employers who “steal” wages from their workers.

Coalition against Wage Theft member John Ruiz, Committee Member Mary, PCRP Law Clerk Stephanie Gharakhanian, Annunciation House Volunteer Greg Baltz, and PCRP Economic Justice Advocate Tom Power (El Diario de El Paso)

This theft consists of paying less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour or offering partial or no payment, breaking the agreement between employer and worker.

“The problem is bigger than what we imagined,” expressed Committee leader Lidia Cruz yesterday.

It seems that the problem is so big that the civil organization gets between three and five complaints every week from workers who aren’t paid in full or at all.

Cruz admitted, however, that the majority of the cases are resolved after the victim, with the help of the Labor Justice Committee, negotiates with the “abusive” employer to reach a payment agreement.

In other occasions, the result isn’t favorable and that’s when cases are compiled for possible criminal prosecution, she said.

The activist commented that they had about 30 “wage theft” cases with enough of the evidence and documentation needed to present them to the Police Department or the Sheriff’s Office.

The police agencies are the ones who receive the complaints from the victims, allowing them to complete the necessary investigations and arrests and present the cases to the District Attorney.

Cruz mentioned that, among the ready cases, is a case of fifty drivers whose trucking company stopped paying them and changed his name to “protect” himself from being sued.

The Ibarra’s cases is also included, as they are trying to recover their belongings which were left at their ex-employer’s house, along with the money they are owed.

As if that’s not enough, the whole press conference was videotaped!  Watch it unfold:

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