Workers and EJC ask Councilmember Barry to help them collect $260,000 in unpaid wages at DOES Performance Hearing

Activists from EJC, DC Jobs with Justice, and the DC Wage Theft Coalition packed the room at the Wilson Building on Monday morning at the performance oversight hearing for the Department of Employment Services (DOES).

The supporters came out to support six workers – James Reese, Solange Ayuk,  Jose RamirezEliseo Hernandez, David Melendez, and Carlos Castillo, President of United Workers of DC  – who all testified before the Committee on Workforce and Community Affairs about their experience with wage theft and DOES’ Office of Wage-Hour (OWH).

“I had to leave school because I didn’t have the money to pay for the courses. It was very painful to wait almost hopelessly for the money I had worked hard for,” said Solange Ayuk, who was owed over $1,000 when the company where she worked as a home health aide did not pay her a months’ wages.

Jose Ramirez testified that when four of his paychecks bounced, he filed a claim with the Office of Wage-Hour, to no avail. However, when he and two other workers held a protest in front of the restaurant, supported by EJC and the DC Wage Theft Coalition, they were paid their wages in full. “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,” Ramirez told a sympathetic Chairman Marion Barry.

(Left to right) Eliseo Hernandez, David Melendez, Solange Ayuk, and James Reese testify about their experiences with wage theft.

(Left to right) Eliseo Hernandez, David Melendez, Solange Ayuk, and James Reese testify about their experiences with wage theft.

In his testimony, EJC Advocacy Manager Ari Weisbard thanked Chairman Marion Barry for his support on the Workplace Fraud Amendment Act of 2012, and asked for his leadership once more to protect workers from wage theft. Weisbard testified that since the Office of Wage-Hour does not enforce DC law allowing workers to collect liquidated damages for unpaid wages, “[Dishonest employers] still come out ahead, with an interest-free loan from their own employees.”

Before heading into the hearing, activists stopped City Councilmember Marion Barry to thank him for his work to prevent wage theft and hand him an oversized “bill” for the outstanding balance of unpaid wages. The bill, with 43 workers signed on claiming unpaid wages totaling over $260,000,  is the tip of the iceberg for how many workers in DC are not paid the wages they are owed.

Councilmember Barry accepted the “bill” from the activists, stating, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

During the hearing, Councilmember Barry committed to thoroughly investigating failures on the part of the Office of Wage-Hour to protect workers’ wages, and stated that he will introduce a bill to strengthen protections against wage theft if necessary.

EJC applauds Chairman Barry’s leadership on workers’ rights and wage theft. We thank him for his dedication to ensuring that all workers in the District receive the wages they are owed.

We still need your help to win this campaign! Please sign the petition to the DC Council to support stronger protections against wage theft and to ensure all workers receive their wages.