Testimony of Jose Ramirez, DOES Performance Oversight Hearing
On Monday, March 4, 2013, Jose Ramirez testified before the DC Council’s Committee on Workforce and Community Affairs about his experiences with wage theft and the Office of Wage-Hour. Below is video and prepared text of his testimony.
My name is Jose Ramirez and my testimony about my experience at the DC Office of Wage-Hour demonstrates that the system we have in Washington, DC to protect workers’ wages is broken. I went to this office when the restaurant where I worked as a busboy did not pay me more than $1,200 for a month of work, and they were unable to help me recover my wages.
I worked as a busboy at Hook Restaurant in Georgetown. In June, 2011, four of my paychecks bounced because of insufficient funds.
Despite asking the owners many times to pay me, they never did. It was very humiliating to always be asking for money, as if I were begging when I was really only asking for the wages I had earned. (Download Microsoft Silverlight to view this DC Council video.)
In July, 2012 I went to the DC Office of Wage-Hour to file a wage claim. The investigator, Mr. Alvarenga told me that he would contact the owner to resolve my problem and that I should call back at the end of the month.
I called Mr. Alvarenga many more times over the next several months to see if he was in contact with the owner, and he said that he didn’t know anything about my case, and that the owner would not take his calls.
Mr. Alvarenga told me it was difficult to find a solution to my problem because there were no other complaints, so it would be “complicated” for the owner to pay me the wages I was owed. After four months, I had no result and decided not to bother Mr. Alvarenga again.
Then I received a call from Hannah Kane, an organizer from the DC Employment Justice Center. I met with her and two other workers who were victims of wage theft by the same owner and had filed claims with the DC Office of Wage-Hour that had never been resolved.
We decided to protest in front of the restaurant. With the support of organizations such as DC United Workers, Jobs with Justice, the DC Employment Justice Center, several unions, and many students from Georgetown University, we held this protest and were victorious.
The owner paid us everything he owed us, a sum of more than $4,200. After waiting to be paid for a year and a half, through this approach we were able to accomplish what the office responsible for resolving my case was unable to do.
I feel that with their inability to find a solution to my case, the DC Office of Wage-Hour demonstrated their inability to enforce the laws of Washington, DC. Employers, like mine, mock the established laws. They did not provide any positive conclusions to my problem, claiming that what was owed to me was too little to be able to punish or fine the person responsible.