Wage theft hits immigrants — hard | The Daily Reporter – Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee, Wisconsin 2021-10-15 10:38:07 –

Susan Feliz and Joe Jeraldi
Center for Public Integrity

Audelia Molina, a Mexican immigrant, earned 10 cents for all garments trimmed at her factory in Los Angeles, the capital of American garment assembly. Her wages were so poor that she began spending 11 hours to drive production.

When she requested a salary increase, the supervisor rejected her request, so she resigned in July 2017 and of the worker’s right to help file a complaint of unpaid wages with the California Labor Relations Commission. I relied on a lawyer.

A year later, the state found that Molina was paid an average of $ 199 a week, violating overtime laws and regulations that piecework workers earn at least the state’s minimum wage of $ 10.50 per hour. .. However, Molina’s employer did not pay her about $ 23,000 in arrears, excluding legal fees. Her best option was to apply for a state fund for deceived clothing workers. This is a rare backstop that California finances with a business registration fee.

It took another two years for Molina to receive the check. Her former employer has not yet made a refund to the state fund if necessary.

Molina, who has lived in California for 30 years, was involved in a toxic cycle centuries ago. Immigrants do the lowest-paying and hard-working jobs in the United States and are most affected by employers’ failure to pay fairly.

Even with support for filing proceedings and claims with state labor agencies and the U.S. Department of Labor, as Molina did, they often settle for less to make money faster. Or you have to wait for the case to prolong.

Like US citizens, non-citizens working under the Fair Labor Standards Act are entitled to overtime and a minimum hourly wage after 40 hours. However, it is not uncommon for migrant workers, whether documented or not, to face employer threats when claiming their rights. This is illegal.

The US Department of Labor, which operates in all states, does not ask victims of suspected wage theft whether they are immigrants. Authorities have explicitly acknowledged that complaints will be examined regardless of the worker’s immigration status.

However, Center for Public Integrity, which analyzed data from the Ministry of Labor and the US Census Bureau, found that wage theft rates were higher in industries with a higher proportion of foreign-born workers.

Nationally, 16% of US workers are foreign-born. In contrast, 42% of all workers who assemble cut-and-sew garments are immigrants. It is one of the highest percentage of migrant workers in the country.public

Strip off immigrant families

Naro and other UCLA researchers have heard stories like this for years.

Reports from several UCLA Labor Centers have long warned of the “crisis” of wage theft that robs California’s migrant families. According to a 2010 report, low-wage Los Angeles County, primarily migrant workers, lose an average of over $ 2,000 a year, for a total of over $ 26 million per week.

State officials acknowledge that reviewing unpaid wage claims can take months, or even years. This process includes mediation attempts, hearings, and appeals that may be leaked to court. And in the end, some companies simply don’t pay.

The failure of employers to pay clothing workers was a very embarrassing problem 20 years ago, so California legislators raised $ 75 from each manufacturer’s annual registration fee. Established the Clothing Compensation Fund. The employer will be notified to repay the fund.

However, as the number of night flight factories surged in Los Angeles, workers’ claims grew and they began to compete for contracts by promising cheap production. By 2018, the fund went bankrupt. With hundreds waiting for checks, in 2019 the legislature remitted $ 16.3 million from other types of business fees and general funds to the fund.

Challenges in other states

Immigrants may face even more restrictions on obtaining unpaid wages in other states.

The Fey Justicia (Faith and Justice) Workers Center in Houston, Texas helps deceived migrants by negotiating directly with their employers. The Houston Metro area is estimated to be home to 500,000 undocumented residents who perform a variety of tasks, including construction, dry cleaning, landscaping, and warehousing. Jessica Lorena Langer, manager of the Group’s Community Counseling and Legal Center, said some employers would try to get them back when workers demanded unpaid income.

“The employer fills their hearts with something, as they tell them:’You can’t do anything about me, you have to suck it for your status. You Shouldn’t be working either. I’m benefiting you, “Langer said.

The group received more than 540 calls during the year, alleging that the employer did not pay at least $ 1.36 million. Some victims have resorted to small-value courts, but face the same burdens as California, Langer said. The Texas Labor Commission accepts the claim. However, many migrants travel between construction and other workplaces and are considered independent contractors excluded from submission to the Commission.

In another immigrant state, Florida, no state agency is completely dedicated to investigating wage theft and reviewing claims. The State Department of Labor was abolished in 2002. The counties of Alachua, Broward, Hillsboro, Miami-Dade, Pinellas, and Osceola have different versions of the wage theft prevention ordinance with complaint procedures. In Miami-Dade, workers are directed to conflict-mediated services that average over $ 1,800.

Gregory Baker, the administrator of the county’s Consumer Protection Agency, where the program is housed.

“We do not claim on behalf of either party,” Baker said. If the employer does not respect the agreement, it is also up to the worker to seek legal remedies to collect.

In New York, unpaid workers have access to a state system similar to California. But in the metropolitan area of ​​New York City, where perhaps one million undocumented people live, lawyer Lou Peckman is increasingly choosing a group of workers to file a proceeding in federal court. Said.

Peckman represents an immigrant janitor who cleaned the Wayfair warehouse and distribution center in New Jersey last year. Workers claim that their employer, New Jersey-based DME Janitorial Services, paid $ 12 to $ 16 per hour without overtime, despite working up to 90 hours a week. .. A lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for New Jersey stated that “plaintiffs were essential workers during the pandemic and ensured that the facilities they cleaned were disinfected according to the COVID-19 protocol and requirements.” Stated. In a court filing, the company denied wage law violations and stated that it acted “in a proper, business-like manner, without malicious or injured intentions,” among other defenses.

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