Immigrants, main victims of wage theft

The sectors that employ the most immigrants have the highest rates of wage theft, as reported by the AP Agency.

Audelia Molina, a Mexican immigrant, earned 10 cents for every garment she cut in a workshop in Los Angeles, the garment capital of the United States. His salary was so low that he began to work 11 hours a day to increase his production.

When she asked for a raise, her supervisor denied it, so she resigned in July 2017 and turned to an employment attorney to help her file a lawsuit for unpaid wages with the California Labor Commission.

A year later, the court ruled that Molina earned an average of $ 199 dollars a week, which violated labor laws, including those that govern overtime pay and those that provide that a person must earn at least the minimum wage of the state, it was $ 10.50 an hour.

Molina’s former employer, however, did not pay him the $ 23,000 he owed or the services of the attorneys. His best option was to apply for help from a state fund for workers in the sector who were robbed.

It took Molina more than two years to receive her check, and her former employer has still not reimbursed the state fund, as required by law.

Molina, who has lived in California for 30 years, was caught up in a toxic cycle that has existed for centuries: Immigrants take on the lowest paid and hardest jobs, and are the main victims of employers who do not pay fair wages. And when they go to court or make claims before the authorities, as in the case of Molina, they generally receive less compensation than they were entitled to in order to collect faster or embark on endless processes.

“They pay you what they want,” said Molina, who is 58 years old today. “All they care about is getting the job done as quickly as possible.”

Like US citizens, non-citizens whose jobs are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act are entitled to overtime after working 40 hours a week and at minimum wage. But it is not unusual for an immigrant, whether he has a residence permit or not, to be intimidated by the employer – which is illegal – when he tries to assert his rights.

The Labor Department does not ask victims of alleged wage theft whether they are immigrants or not. It states that it analyzes the cases regardless of the immigration status of the workers.

But an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity of statistics from the Department of Labor and the Census Bureau indicated that the sectors that employ the most immigrants have the highest rates of wage theft.

Nationally, 16 percent of America’s workers were born abroad. But in the area of ​​clothing cutting and sewing, immigrants make up 42 percent. It is one of the sectors with the highest percentage of foreigners.

The analysis of the Center for Public Integrity also found that it is the sector with the second highest average of violations of wage laws in the last 15 years.

Other sectors with large numbers of immigrant workers and a high incidence of wage theft are agriculture, building maintenance, and jobs in hotels, restaurants, and other food services. In some regions, wage theft is also rife in areas such as construction, nursing homes, warehouses and car washes.

The country’s main labor union, the AFL-CIO, says it is essential to legalize the status of the millions of immigrants without residence permits to combat wage theft. After years of paralysis, the Democrats who control Congress are having trouble pushing through proposals that would clear the way for many immigrants who have lived in the country for years to regularize their status.

“Immigration is an integral part of the country’s economic growth,” noted a 2016 report from the National Academy of Sciences. “If the American economy grows and requires more workers to replace those who retire and to create new businesses and industries, the main source of employees will be first and second generation immigrants.”

In Los Angeles, no one questions that workers without a residence permit make up a significant percentage of the 45,000 Latin American and Asian immigrants who work in the workshops that make the clothes that end up on the shelves of many fine apparel chains and other stores. When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged last year, many workers in the sector produced face masks and other protective equipment. About 300 workers contracted the virus at a factory, Los Angeles Apparel, and six of them died.

“The pandemic highlighted the fact that a large number of immigrant workers, especially undocumented workers, are essential workers,” said Victor Narro, project director of the Los Angeles-based University of California Labor Center. . “What are we going to do for them now?” He asked.

Narro supports the idea of ​​allowing these workers to regularize their status, as well as a law that California Governor Gavin Newsom signed on September 27 that authorizes piecework in garment making only as a supplement to a job with a basic salary. and within the framework of a collective bargaining agreement.

Staff at the Garment Worker Center, a nonprofit where Molina learned of her rights, worked years to push that law forward. Center staff say the wage claims he filed had an average wage of $ 5 an hour, well below that stipulated by law. Starting in 2022, the law will also apply to stores that work with these workshops.

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