Federal suit filed against Family Dollar stores for alleged wage theft
SAN JUAN — Nearly 30 people gathered in front of the Family Dollar store in this city Thursday to protest against alleged wage theft and other violations by the company.
The protestors waved their red United Farm Worker flags and held up posters demanding the company pay five employees who have allegedly been denied wages for almost two years. The workers cleaned several stores throughout the Rio Grande Valley for over a month almost two years ago and have yet to be paid, said Martha Sanchez, an organizer for La Union del Pueblo Entero.
“We have several complaints that came through our office saying that people didn’t get paid,” she said. “The company also hires them to do contract labor and ends up paying them less than the minimum wage. And they never get paid overtime.”
As a result, the non-profit migrant advocacy organization and the South Texas Civil Rights Project filed a lawsuit in a Brownsville federal court against the stores and the janitorial company who contracted them.
Family Dollar Stores of Texas, LLC could not be reached for comment Thursday.
“It’s all about the dignity,” STCRP Attorney Elliott Tucker. “These people just poured their heart out working for this company doing the cleaning, working nights, really long hours and really long shifts. And then to just not get paid at the end of the month or month and a half is devastating.”
Demetrio Vazquez, 41, is one of those workers.
“I worked almost three weeks and they never paid us,” Vazquez said in Spanish about Israel and Maria Vallejo, owners of Vallejo Janitorial. “(Israel Vallejo) would pick us up in Weslaco — that was our meeting point — at 5 in the afternoon and we would work until 11 in the morning cleaning several stores.”
Marcelino Valdez, 46, is another plaintiff who was also protesting.
“It’s not fair for them to use us and then not pay us,” Valdez said. “We have necessities and bills to pay.”
Valdez, who lives in Donna, said he sends money to his four sons in Tampico, Tamaulipas for schooling.
“We just want them to pay us and to stop the discrimination,” he added.
There are too many abuses in the Rio Grande Valley, said supporter Reyna Torales.
“When we work in the fields, in the potato or asparagus, they pay us week by week and they don’t just string us along,” the protestor said in Spanish. “Our American dream has become a tragedy with these people who don’t want to pay.”
But problems with the company are not only being heard locally, Tucker said. People are protesting against the company in El Paso for similar claims.
Sanchez said both organizations are working to form a new group called Fuerza Del Valle, which in English means Valley’s Strength.
“We’re trying to establish this group for fair wages and everything that has to do with workers’ rights,” she said. “Any time injustices happen, especially to our members, LUPE is going to stand with them.”
Tucker encouraged anyone who is experiencing similar injustices to contact LUPE headquarters in San Juan.
“We want to help people,” he said. “That’s what we’re here for.”