Enter to win a 50″ flatscreen tv!

December 8, 2011

Just a quick note to let you all know that the Labor Justice Committee is currently holding a raffle.  For just $10, you can enter to win this 50″ plasma TV! The raffle will be held this Tuesday, December 13th.

The Unitarian Universalist Fund for a Just Society has generously offered a matching grant that will benefit the Labor Justice Committee.  This means that the money from your ticket will be matched (up to the first $1,000 that we raise).

If you’re interested in buying a ticket, please email us at justicialaboralep@gmail.com or call the office at 915-532-3799 x 17!


El Paso City Council Supports a Resolution Against Wage Theft!

December 2, 2011

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Presentation of Petitions to the El Paso City Council

November 28, 2011

We will be presenting all of our petitions and organizational support letters to City Council on during their meeting on Tuesday, November 29.  Remember, even though the District Attorney’s office, the El Paso Police Department, and the El Paso Sheriff’s Office have said they will be starting to prosecute wage theft criminally, not all wage theft cases will be 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 the epidemic will continue.

Several members of the Coalition met with City Council members last week and received verbal support from several members. Rep. Susie Byrd will be presenting a resolution to the Council on Nov. 29 recognizing wage theft as a problem and committing the City to create local remedies to resolve the problem and we will speak during the public comment period of that resolution.

We are requesting your presence during the City Council meeting to show the City Council just how much the El Paso community is in favor of this ordinance!

What: Presentation of Petitions and Open Letters in support of the ordinance against wage theft

Date: Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Time: 9:00 am

Where: City Council Meeting (2 Civic Center Plaza)

Announcing Criminal Prosecution of Wage Theft!

November 17, 2011

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 Read the rest of this entry »

Petitions to the City Council

October 26, 2011

Update – December 1, 2011
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!

We are writing today to ask your assistance.  As we have mentioned again and again, wage theft in El Paso is an epidemic, but our government is failing us.  Very few government organizations exist that can help workers recover unpaid wages and the few that do exist either don’t respond to complaints or don’t have the resources to resolve complaints in a timely fashion.

The Coalition against Wage Theft, a coalition of local organizations, was recently formed to demand that the City of El Paso pass an ordinance against wage theft.  This Coalition includes the Labor Justice Committee, Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project, Border Network for Human Rights, the Diocese of El Paso, El Paso Building and Construction Trades Council, and Annunciation House, just to include a few.

Cities across the country are passing similar ordinances and it can be done in El Paso too.  But we need your support.  As we continue trying to convince our City Council members that the acts of unscrupulous employers are not welcome in our community, we are asking you to sign the Coalition against Wage Theft’s petitions (in English and Spanish).

We will be delivering these petitions to the City Council in mid-November.  With your signature, we can show the City Council that it’s not just the Labor Justice Committee or the Coalition against Wage Theft that’s fighting against wage theft, but rather that the El Paso community as a whole is demanding that the city take action against this crime wave.

If you’d like printer friendly versions of these petitions, you can find them here: (English and Spanish).

If your organization would like to sign on, please do not hesitate to let us know at justicialaboralep@gmail.com.

As always,  if you are interested in being an active part of these efforts, please let us know!  Over the next several months, we will be meeting with El Paso’s elected officials.  They need to hear how wage theft and lack of enforcement affects your organization and the people with whom you work.

Finally, keep watching this space for an exciting announcement regarding this year’s National Day of Action Against Wage Theft!

National, State, and Local Labor Updates

July 31, 2011

As we continue fighting for labor justice in El Paso, we just wanted to share a few exciting updates and victories that have happened over the last month.

In national news, the Labor Justice Committee signed on to a letter to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis asking her and the Department of Labor to limit the reach of the “companionship exemption” to the Fair Labor Standards Act.  Many Committee members work as home care aides.  These members often work shifts that are 72 hours or longer, usually by themselves.  However, as currently written, federal regulation excludes home care aids from minimum wage and overtime protections.  This can be ended at any time by Secretary Solis.  Members of our community who are caring for our parents and grandparents deserve fair compensation for their tireless efforts!  To learn more, click here.

On a statewide level, the Texas legislature passed a law making it easier for wage theft to be prosecuted criminally!  A big thank you to co-sponsor and local state senator Jose Rodriguez!

Texas law tougher on cheating employers

by Vic Kolenc\ El Paso Times
Posted: 06/15/2011 12:00:00 AM MDT
 A revised state law, recently signed by Gov. Rick Perry, is aimed at cracking down on employers who don’t pay their employees.

The Wage Theft Bill, sponsored by state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, and state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, revised the theft-of-services law to make it easier for police to arrest and prosecutors to charge employers who cheat workers out of their pay, according to the Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project, an El Paso legal defense organization that helped draft the bill.

The revision makes it easier for police and prosecutors to go after employers with a repeated pattern of not paying employees, said Chris Benoit, a lawyer for the Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project.

The revision closes a loophole that allowed employers to avoid criminal theft-of-services charges by making a minimal payment to their workers, Benoit said.

This is aimed at fly-by-night employers who routinely don’t pay workers, Benoit said. It’s not aimed at employers who miss a payroll for good reasons, he said.

Wage theft is common in El Paso, mostly affecting day laborers in the construction industry, he said.

Ricardo Madrid, an El Paso construction worker who said he recently had an out-of-state employer skip out of town without paying him and other workers for their weeks of work at a hotel construction site, said he hopes the revised law has teeth to get those employers.

“This (wage theft) is very prevalent in the El Paso borderland. Unfortunately it happens a lot, especially to Latinos,” said Madrid, 45, who said he’s been in the construction industry off and on most of his life. “This has happened to me several times.”

Madrid said the contractor paid him once, but left town without paying him about $800 for two weeks of work.

Benoit said Austin has been going after wage theft for several years and has been prosecuting about five employers a year.

In El Paso, the Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project is now working with the state district attorney’s office on ways to start using the revised law, Benoit said. The El Paso Police Department also needs to be educated on how to use the revised law, he said.

“We hope this deters employers from doing this (wage theft),” Benoit said.

El Diario article and more after the jump!
Read the rest of this entry »

El Paso’s Newest Crime Wave: A Wage Theft Epidemic in the Borderlands

July 7, 2011

This groundbreaking report, co-authored by the Labor Justice Committee, uncovers an epidemic of wage and hour violations running rampant in the El Paso area, and the impunity with which employers are able to violate their employees’ rights.  Co-authored Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project, Border Network for Human Rights, Dr. Cristina Morales, and Eric Murillo, the report provides the first-ever statistical analysis of an epidemic of wage and hour violations occurring among low-wage workers in the El Paso region. In an economy where many workers are struggling to get by, this Report tells the story of local workers who have lost their homes and livelihood due to wage theft and reveals the government’s inability to address these violations. Finally, the authors explore steps that El Paso can take to better protect exploited workers.

Read on for media coverage of the panel discussion regarding the report, and keep watching this space as we push local lawmakers to make enforcement against wage theft a possibility for El Paso workers!

Wage-theft review: Advocacy groups push for fairness in worker pay

by Aaron Bracamontes\ El Paso Times
Posted: 06/24/2011 12:00:00 AM MDT

One of every five low-wage workers in El Paso makes less than minimum wage, while close to 80 percent earn less than $10 an hour, according to a first-of-its-kind study released on Thursday.

“El Paso’s Newest Crime Wave: A Wage Theft Epidemic in the Borderlands” was released Thursday at the Border Network for Human Rights Center by the three nonprofit groups that commissioned it.

“The numbers show that wage theft is very prevalent,” said Maria Cristina Morales, a professor from Texas A&M University, who conducted the groundbreaking study with Eric Murillo, founder and co-organizer of the Retail Workers Rights Committee. “It was not something we had to work very hard to find.”

Volunteers from the three advocacy groups surveyed more than 250 low-income workers on streets, at bus stops and in community meetings.

A low-income worker is an employee who makes less than the “livable wage.” In El Paso, the “livable wage” is $7.26 an hour for a single person and $15.26 for an adult with a single child.

“As the number of dependents goes up, the livable wage gets higher,” said Morales.

Maria Christina Morales, author of the El Paso wage-theft study, presents her findings Thursday at the Border Network for Human Rights Center office, 2115 Piedras St. The study found that one out of every five low-wage workers in El Paso makes less than minimum wage and that close to 80 percent earn less than $10 an hour. (Vanessa Monsisvais / El Paso Times)

She presented the study results during a joint news conference hosted by the Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project, the Labor Justice Committee and the Border Network for Human Rights.

The study also found that nearly two-thirds of low-wage workers do not receive overtime pay.

“A lot of times, these workers don’t even know what overtime pay is,” Morales said.

The three groups said that low-income workers are vulnerable to wage theft; that’s when employers withhold payments.

Some cases of wage theft occur when employees are misrepresented as independent contractors, which denies them certain rights and benefits.

“This idea of not paying the workers who work overtime is more common than you think,” Border Network member Fernando Garcia said. “Hopefully, somebody will listen and things will start to change.”

Miguel Miranda, a member of the Border Network for Human Rights, said he could recall one man’s tragic but common story.

“He was hired to put up lights and decorations around a house,” Miranda said. “At the end, the owner said, ‘I don’t like the way it looks — I’m not paying you.’ That abuse is constant, and our people are suffering.”

The study was done to bring awareness about wage theft in El Paso.

The local human-rights groups want something done locally, said Christopher Benoit, a lawyer for the Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project.

“Change is slow in Washington and Austin, but we can make a change here with local ordinances,” Benoit said.

State legislators have already taken action on the problem.

The Wage Theft Bill, which was recently signed by Gov. Rick Perry, makes it easier for police to arrest and for prosecutors to charge employers who cheat workers out of their pay.

The wage theft study proposes language that can be used in any local ordinance.

“We provide a criminal and civil option, depending on what lawmakers want to do,” Benoit said. “We can use code compliance officers to deal with complaints.”

The study suggests that any penalties should be harsh enough to discourage employers from withholding wages.

Over the next few months, the advocacy groups will try to meet with local lawmakers to try to get an ordinance passed, Benoit said.

The results of the survey will help make the groups’ case, he said.

Read the rest of this entry »