Video: Workers and EJC ask Councilmember Barry to help them collect $260,000 in unpaid wages

stopwagetheftActivists from DC Employment Justice Center, 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).

Before heading into the hearing, activists stopped 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, signed by 43 workers claiming unpaid wages totaling over $260,000, represented just the tip of the iceberg of workers in DC who are not paid the wages they are owed. Committee Chair Barry accepted the “bill” from the activists, stating, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Here’s some video of the workers presenting the bill and Barry’s response:

Committee Chair Barry then opened the Committee on Workforce and Community Affairs oversight hearing with remarks in support of the 70 workers and supporters protesting wage theft in DC. (Download Microsoft Silverlight to view DC Council videos.)

Several workers and supporters of the DC Wage Theft Coalition testified and Committee Chair Barry responded strongly to each, promising to investigate, consider additional funding for the Office of Wage Hour, and propose wage theft legislation in the near future. Just click their names to see video and text of their testimony.

In his testimony, EJC Advocacy Manager Ari Weisbard asked the 70 supporters in the room to stand up, thanked Chairman Marion Barry for his support, and asked for his leadership 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.”

(Left, right, top to bottom) Jose Ramirez, James Reese, David Melendez, Solange Ayuk, Eliseo Hernandez, and Carlos Castillo testify at the DC Council

(Left, right, top to bottom) Jose Ramirez, James Reese, David Melendez, Solange Ayuk, Eliseo Hernandez, and Carlos Castillo testify at the DC Council

“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.

Four other workers (James Reese, David Melendez, and Carlos Castillo, President of United Workers of DC) and two attorneys (Richard Brenner and John Durkalski) also testified about their experiences with wage theft.

EJC applauds Committee Chair 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.

As one last sign of what advocacy can accomplish, watch this clip of Office of Wage-Hour Director Pamela Banks’s testimony, which includes the unprecedented statement that she needs at least double the resources to accomplish the job:

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