When Maria came into my office, she was confused. She even tried to speak English to me thinking I was not able to speak her language. When she realized I spoke Spanish, I saw how her face changed, and a sense of relief came and surrounded her. She was desperate for a solution to her problem. When she came to the United States her dream was to be able to give her family a better life. Now that dream was broken; after working for a cleaning company for almost two years, her paycheck bounced. After trying to talk to her manager a couple of times with no response, she reached out to GBM’s new Winning Our Wages (WOW) wage theft project.
Wage theft occurs when 1) workers are not paid all their wages, 2) workers work overtime but are not paid for it, or 3) workers aren’t paid at all for work they’ve performed. “Wage theft occurs when an employer violates the law and deprives a worker of legally mandated wages,” says Kim Bobo, Director of Interfaith Workers Justice.
Many studies have been done by numerous organizations and they have discovered 25% of tomato producers, 35% of lettuce producers, 51% of cucumber producers, 58% of onion producers, and 62% of garlic producers who hire farm workers steal workers’ wages. Seventy-eight percent of restaurants in New Orleans stole workers’ wages. Almost half of day laborers, mostly in construction work and landscaping, have had their wages stolen. One hundred percent of poultry plants steal workers’ wages. The most affected are construction workers, garment factory workers, nursing home workers, farm workers, poultry workers, restaurant workers, day laborers, landscape workers, freelancers1.
According to Kim Bobo, “In all our faith traditions we have a God who is committed to justice in the context of hope. God gives commandments along with promises for peace and reconciliation. We need to build awareness of the crisis of wage theft and stimulate the needed public determination to stop it.”
At GBM, we have seen reports of wage theft rise, especially among Latino/Hispanic workers. We also see the possibility of broaden our reach to all low-income workers equipping them to know their rights and so they can fight to recover their own lost wages.
With GBM’s help, Maria recovered her $600 paycheck and was able to continue supporting her family.
If you or someone you know has not been paid for the hours they worked, WOW may be able to help them recover their lost wages. Call Miquel Carpizo at 326-6821, ext. 110 for more information.
“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.” – Cesar Chavez
1”Wage Thief in America: Why Millions of Working Americans are Not Getting Paid-And What We Can Do About it”, by Kim Bobo