Testimony of David Melendez, Treasurer of United Workers of DC, DOES Performance Oversight Hearing

On Monday, March 4, 2013, David Melendez, Treasurer of United Workers of DC, 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. (Download Microsoft Silverlight to view this DC Council video.)

Good morning Councilmembers, Councilmember Marion Barry, and everyone else here today. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about my experience.

My name is David Melendez. Today I want to talk to you about a problem that I and other like me encounter in our lives. I was working in a downtown Italian restaurant as a busboy, where I was paid seven dollars per hour – below the minimum wage in this city and in the country. I was fired by the owner for talking to him about my wages, because I had worked six weeks yet I had not been paid my salary nor much of my tips for four of those weeks. From each week of work I was owed more than half of my tips. For that reason I decided to talk with the owner of the restaurant. I told him I needed to be paid my tips in full instead of only half. He grew angry, told me to leave and not to come back.

I looked for help with the organization United Workers of DC and they helped me to file a claim with the Office of Wage and Hour. They documented my case of wage theft y scheduled a hearing for a date in 20 days to talk with the restaurant owner about what happened. But I had to pay my rent and my bills, so I could not wait for the hearing. I went with representatives from United Workers of DC to see if I could recover my wages more quickly, and in fact the owner agreed to pay almost immediately after he realized that I had an organization supporting me. Although the Office of Wage and Hour was later successful in recovering part of the amount I was owed, it was still at a salary below the minimum wage. If the Office of Wage and Hour cannot recover money for the lost time and lost work – and more quickly – there is not much motivation for me to go there instead of attempting to recover my wages myself.