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Day workers plagued by wage theft

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Day workers plagued by wage theft

Local advocates hope to recoup pay in problem plaguing nation

By JAMES PINKERTON

2007 Houston Chronicle (aka: Houston Comical)

Francisco Ramos worked a 40-hour week in June, framing houses in south Houston for promised wages of $320. But on payday, the 26-year-old carpenter got nothing.

His contractor dropped him off later that evening empty-handed.

A month later, he's still waiting for his wages — as are thousands of other immigrants across the U.S. and Houston.

Wage theft is widespread among mostly illegal immigrant workers, especially those who are recruited on street corners and work in the shadows of the American labor force. And that work-related exploitation appears to be growing along with the country's immigrant population.

In the nation's first comprehensive study of day laborers, called ''On the Corner," UCLA researchers interviewed 2,660 workers at 264 hiring sites in 20 states, including Texas and the District of Columbia. The 2006 study concluded that almost half of all day laborers experienced at least one instance of wage theft in the two months prior to being surveyed.

In Houston, a national worker's advocacy group opened an office near downtown in April to recover wages lost by mostly immigrant workers. The Houston Interfaith Worker Justice Center is handling cases of wage loss mostly among immigrants hired by small businesses, contractors and individuals.

But if an immigrant — undocumented or not — is working for an employer with revenues exceeding $500,000 annually, a complaint can be referred to the U.S. Department of Labor's wage and hour division.

In the department's Houston district, the number of immigrants bringing wage complaints has risen dramatically, with 842 seeking back pay in fiscal 2006. That is up from the 371 in 2005 and 172 the year before, according to the Labor Department.

In the Houston district, the department identified $2.9 million in back wages owed to immigrants in fiscal 2006, up from $607,000 the year before. For 2006, the department collected backwages of $475,000 owed to 453 immigrant workers.

The labor department cases involve workers who were not paid, or paid less than minimum wage, or not paid for overtime hours.

The UCLA study indicated the day labor force is predominantly immigrant and Latino. Nearly 60 percent of the workers are from Mexico and 28 percent from Central America. The third largest group, at 7 percent, are U.S-born.

And while 75 percent of day laborers are undocumented, the rest are either U.S. citizens or legal immigrants seeking permanent residency.

Groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform say exploitation of immigrant workers by employers is another reason why the U.S. needs to control illegal immigration.

''It's the next best thing to slavery — they hold all the cards," said Ira Mehlman , a FAIR spokesman, referring to unscrupulous employers. ''They have a whole class of workers who have a limited ability to complain about conditions they're faced with."

Unfair advantage

Richard Shaw, secretary-treasurer of the Harris County AFL-CIO, described wage theft among immigrant workers as a "big problem" in Houston.

Shaw said wage theft not only exploits immigrants but hurts legitimate businesses that pay their workers fair wages.

''When workers work for free ... it drives down wages for everyone else in the community," Shaw said. ''So if you're going into the lawn-care business legitimately, you're competing against employers who don't pay their workers."

Longtime Houston immigration activist Maria Jimenez, who visited a hiring site in Kingwood on Thursday, said three of 15 workers told her their employers owed them money. She said two were U.S.-born — an Anglo and a Mexican-American.

''It's a pretty serious situation ... and it's gotten worse over the years," Jimenez said. ''It's because of the presence of immigrants in these trades where it's easy not to pay them — like landscaping or construction — because (employers) know they can get away with it."

City officials say a major obstacle to recovering wages is fear — many undocumented immigrants won't file complaints because they are afraid of being deported. Others immigrants, desperate not to lose additional earnings, consider the process of filing complaints or going to small claims court too time-consuming.

Since beginning operations in 2001, the Mayor's Office of Immigrant & Refugee Affairs has logged 727 complaints of employment problems experienced by immigrants, including wage theft.

''It's a very serious problem. Immigrants are vulnerable to this kind of situation," said Benito Juarez, director of the immigrant and refugee affairs offices. ''The problem is a lot of people don't report it."

Carlos Garcia, who heads the protection department at the Mexican Consulate General in Houston, said solutions to wage theft are few ''because there are no regulations to deal with the problem."

Since opening its doors in April, the nonprofit Houston Interfaith Worker Justice Center has begun work on 20 cases involving 48 immigrant workers who are owed money, said staff member Laura Boston.

''If you go to a day labor center and say have you heard of anyone not being paid, everyone raises their hand," Boston said. "If you ask have you not been paid, half to a third will raise their hands."

Staff from the center give workers' rights presentations at day labor centers, churches and other sites.

The center's largest case so far took place in early June, when 20 workers were cheated by a subcontractor for a Houston home builder. Each worker is out wages of $1,296 for more than 100 hours of work, or a total of $25,900, Boston said.

Principle involved

One of the center's clients is Ramos, the Guatemalan immigrant.

While his lost pay has caused a hardship for Ramos, who supports a wife and young son, he decided to file a claim to stop employers from exploiting workers.

''It's true the money is important, but they have to realize it's not right to take advantage of people. It's not just," Ramos said.

Workers at the center attempt to recover the money by contacting the employer. If there is no response, police can be called or a case filed in small claims court. So far, the center has returned an immigrant's pay in one case.

It is hard to determine how many wage theft cases are referred to police. Houston Police Department and Harris County Sheriff's officials said these cases cannot be separated from the wider category of theft of service, which includes driving off without paying for gasoline or skipping a restaurant tab.

Chasing ghosts

Often, immigrants who are scammed provide little information to help investigators locate a contractor, said Cpl. Felipe Gallegos, with the Pct. 6 constable's office. They jump in a truck, may jot down a license plate, but know little else about the employer.

''So it's hard to find them because the immigrant doesn't have a name, an address, nothing," Gallegos said. ''I've got one right now where one guy is owed $160, and all he has is the guy's cell phone. It's like chasing a ghost."

At first, Mexican immigrant Genaro Morgado decided not to complain after he quit his job at an auto repair shop and his last, $350 paycheck bounced.

He knows other laborers who have gone unpaid and done nothing, fearing deportation.

''I was going to leave it like this," he said. ''But my friend said you shouldn't, or next time they'll do the same."

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/5010068.html

THE DAILY ROUTINE

"On The Corner," a national day labor study by UCLA researchers, reports that 117,600 people daily are looking for day-labor jobs or working as day laborers.

Nearly 50 percent of these workers are employed by homeowners and renters for help with moving, cleanup and gardening projects. Forty-three percent are hired by contractors for construction and landscaping jobs.

They perform a variety of manual-labor work. The majority of day laborers are hired repeatedly by the same employer; 83 percent of day laborers rely on day-labor work as their sole income source.

To see the full report, visit:

http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/issr/csup


"Credibility in immigration policy can be summed up in one sentence: Those who should get in, get in; those who should be kept out, are kept out; and those who should not be here will be required to leave."

"...for the system to be credible, people actually have to be deported at the end of the process."

US Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (D-TX)

Testimony to the House Immigration Subcommittee, February 24, 1995

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terrible...


Peace to All creatures great and small............................................

But when we turn to the Hebrew literature, we do not find such jokes about the donkey. Rather the animal is known for its strength and its loyalty to its master (Genesis 49:14; Numbers 22:30).

Peppi_drinking_beer.jpg

my burro, bosco ..enjoying a beer in almaty

http://www.visajourney.com/forums/index.ph...st&id=10835

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The Forest Gump message I got from the article was: Illegal is as illegal does.

Illegal workers and illegal employers are birds of the same feather that flock together. It's no surprise that people that cheat the system get cheated themselves. Their chickens have come to roost. Is there any surprise there? Illegality breeds even more illegality.

Instead of using government resources to recover stolen illegal wages for illegal aliens they should focus on deporting them and penalizing the crooks that hire them. This wouldn't be happening if there weren't vulnerable exploitable illegal workers for crooked employers to cheat. No wonder 75% of workers cheated are illegal aliens. Is there any surprise there?

Aiding illegal aliens just legitimizes their illegal presence here. Government resources shouldn't be used to legitimize and enable illegal activities. We shouldn't be encouraging illegal aliens by helping them to work illegally as if they are entitled. That's the bottom line.


"Credibility in immigration policy can be summed up in one sentence: Those who should get in, get in; those who should be kept out, are kept out; and those who should not be here will be required to leave."

"...for the system to be credible, people actually have to be deported at the end of the process."

US Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (D-TX)

Testimony to the House Immigration Subcommittee, February 24, 1995

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Shaw said wage theft not only exploits immigrants but hurts legitimate businesses that pay their workers fair wages.

''When workers work for free ... it drives down wages for everyone else in the community," Shaw said. ''So if you're going into the lawn-care business legitimately, you're competing against employers who don't pay their workers."

Isn't that what much of the pro-illegal crowd wishes to dispute?

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Shaw said wage theft not only exploits immigrants but hurts legitimate businesses that pay their workers fair wages.

''When workers work for free ... it drives down wages for everyone else in the community," Shaw said. ''So if you're going into the lawn-care business legitimately, you're competing against employers who don't pay their workers."

Isn't that what much of the pro-illegal crowd wishes to dispute?

Heh really....busted.


24 June 2007: Leaving day/flying to Dallas-Fort Worth

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It's karma. I bet they don't pay income taxes but expect to be paid by their employer.


"The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies."

Senator Barack Obama
Senate Floor Speech on Public Debt
March 16, 2006



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