“I was suffering from headaches and anxiety attacks because for almost 3 weeks I tried to talk to my former employer about the money after working five years in his company. He suddenly let me go from my job, without paying me my vacations, the first week of salary that the employer takes before receiving my first paycheck, and the $40 we took off from my salary from a period of 18 months for tax purposes, but when the time to pay my taxes arrived, I never got any tax form, so I needed to pay my taxes. In total he owed me more than $4,000 dollars. When you are a mother of 3 kids, you know that is a very well used money.” (Maria)
Working on Maria’s case, as the many other ones we have had, was a challenge, but when the money is recovered it always gives me a great satisfaction knowing that we are doing something that is transforming the lives of many individuals and families. In every case there is a group of people always working with the worker, because as you know this is not a direct service, but a way to empower people to fight against unfair employers who are not paying them the wages they are owed. In this case, like many we have faced, the employer was a very strong man of faith, but his own convictions and beliefs were blinded by the greed, and the unfair treatment of others. The employer, who owns a dry cleaning business, threatened Maria with comments like “you can get into a lot of trouble because you do not have the right papers to work here.” As most of the cases, he threw the guilty shot to her saying, “after all these years that I took care of you and hired you, knowing you did not have papers, is this the way you repay me?” Maria was never intimidated by his words, and that is when she came into Winning Our Wages. She came patiently to the meetings for almost 3 months; her husband and 3 children were always with her. She invested evenings, her willingness, and maybe some family time to work in her case. After dozens of calls finally with the help of Rev. Tommy Morgan, one of the many full-time volunteers in this initiative, a meeting with the employer and Maria was set. After 2 hours of deliberations, and negotiations, they came to a settlement, $1,000 in cash.
You may think that it was not a complete victory because we were not able to recover the whole amount, but for Maria this was already a victory, because her dignity as a human being was restored, “It is not the amount of money I recovered, but the belief that I was able to stand up for my rights and I was not staying quiet about it.”