El Paso Groups Rally to Fight Wage Theft

Texas Civil Rights Project News
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El Paso Human Rights Groups Gather in National Day of Action to Stop Wage Theft and Retaliation

Human rights organizations and local community members gathered to take action against wage theft, a national crime wave that takes billions of dollars out of the pockets of workers every year, according to Ray Rojas, Executive Director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center.

Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project, the Labor Justice Committee, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, and other El Paso organizations held a rally to bring attention to this problem.

El Paso Wage Theft Rally
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"We are demanding that federal, state, and local agencies be more active in the fight to stop wage theft and protect workers who are scared of retaliation," said Josefina Torres, member of the Comité de Justicia Laboral, a worker rights center.

The national network Interfaith Worker Justice declared November 19 a National Day of Action to Stop Wage Theft to call attention to this "crime wave no one talks about" and to mobilize support for the network’s campaign to end this pernicious practice.

"When recent studies show that 25.9 percent of low-income workers are being paid below minimum wage and 76 percent are illegally denied overtime pay, you know there is a problem," said Rojas.

The rally also highlighted the problem of retaliation when employees do demand their rights. For example, in a recent case, several workers received a restraining order against a local business in response to the employers’ retaliatory actions.

One of the plaintiffs in the case, Ms. Rocio Arredondo, stated, "When we started to demand our unpaid wages from my old boss, she started to contact our current employers to make them think that I was a troublemaker. With this restraining order, we can rest assured that she will face serious consequences if she continues trying to keep us from fighting for our rights."

"The law clearly states that responding to wage claims with retaliatory actions and threats is illegal," says Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project lawyer Chris Benoit. "However, many employers in El Paso respond to valid wage claims by threatening their former employees, and have done so with impunity. This is why we’re asking the District Attorney to start prosecuting wage theft as a criminal matter – so employers realize that what they are doing is illegal and has serious consequences."

The groups are calling for greater enforcement of wage and labor laws from everyone including the Federal Department of Labor, the Texas Workforce Commission, OSHA, and local agencies. To conclude the rally, they delivered a letter to District Attorney Jaime Esparza asking him to meet with them to discuss why it is so important to prosecute wage theft.

"In other cities, including Austin, local authorities have started prosecuting wage theft and retaliation as a criminal matter. Given how widespread these issues are in El Paso, there needs to be greater consequences for employers who violate these laws. Thanks to our meeting today, District Attorney Esparza promised to meet with us to discuss how we can move forward," said Torres.

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