Workers draw in community, activists at community meeting on wage theft

Joined by over 60 DC workers and activists, the EJC’s worker activist group, Workers Advocating for Greater Equality (WAGE), sent a powerful message to their community at Saturday’s community meeting: stand up to wage theft. Workers shared stories about their experiences with wage theft with other DC workers, activists, and with the DC Councilmember Jim Graham (Ward 1), who earlier this month co-introduced the Wage Theft Prevention Act of 2014. WAGE members will be testifying at the bill’s hearing with the Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs at 10am on March 3, and has asked their community to stand with them in the fight against wage theft.

Many workers shared their experiences with wage theft and the impact it had on their lives. “Me metí a un restaurante … a mí me pagaban $400 a la semana y yo estaba contento y todo eso pero no sabía que me robaron allí el overtime (I starting working at a restaurant… they were paying me $400 a week and I was happy, but I didn’t realize that they were stealing my overtime),” said one worker activist who was successful in recovering his unpaid wages.

A worker activist speaks out about his experience with wage theft at a DC restaurant.

A worker activist speaks out about his experience with wage theft at a DC restaurant.

“Y que de mi? Como le hago? (And what about me? What do I do?)” asked Gregorio Hernandez, whose case is still unresolved. “Con cinco hijos que hay que pagar renta, vestir, comer, medicinas, y estudiar? He tenido que ir al psicologo para superar mi depresión (With five children, and I have to pay rent, clothing, food, medicine, and studies? I’ve had to go to the psychologist to overcome my depression).”

“Y como yo también hay muchos que por miedo no hablan (And like me there are others, who don’t speak out because of fear),” he added.

“Sin importar la nacionalidad, sin importar el credo, sin importar la posicion política, este proyecto de ley que nosotros estamos impulsando es con el proposito de ayudar a todos los trabajadores de DC (It doesn’t matter your nationality, it doesn’t matter your creed, it doesn’t matter your political beliefs, this bill we are promoting is with the goal of helping all workers in DC),” said worker leader Tomas Arevalo from El Salvador.

“Sin importar el trabajo que usted desempeñe, sin importar si no es mucho lo que a usted le ofrecieron pagar, pero lo importante sería que a usted se le pague. Pero si a usted le ofrece pagarle una cantidad, y le resulta con otra que no era la convenida, entonces lógicamente le están robando su pago (It doesn’t matter what type of work you perform, it doesn’t matter if you aren’t making a high salary, but what is important is that you are paid. If they offer to pay you one amount, and the amount they pay you is less than what you agreed, then logically, they are stealing your pay).”

Maria Hernandez asked for the community to not stay silent and to speak out if they are being abused in the workplace.

“Quiero pedir de mis compañeros y personas que estamos en este país, sea de donde sea, que nunca callemos en el trabajo. Porque a veces tenemos temor por la preocupación de no poder darles a nuestros hijos lo que queremos. Como decimos, todos luchamos con el temor de que nos boten de nuestros trabajos, por la preocupación que no podemos pagar la renta o la comida. A mi una vez tuve problemas con eso por un robo de pago, yo tuve que pagar como $47 solo por 3 dias que yo me retrasé de pago (I want to ask my community and the people in this country, wherever they are, to never stay silent at work, because sometimes we are afraid and worried that we will not be able to give our children what we want. As we say, we all struggle with the fear that they will kick us out of our jobs, for the concern that we will not have money for rent or food. I once had problems with wage theft, and I had to pay $47 in fines because my rent was three days late).”

Maria Hernandez asks for her community to not stay silent.

Maria Hernandez asks for her community to not stay silent.

Councilmember Jim Graham (Ward 1) attended the meeting, commended the workers for their organization and their heart, and called on them to continue speaking out at the hearing for the Wage Theft Protection Act on March 3. “It’s very important that person after person, like you did today, talk about the wrongdoing that has occurred here in the United States against you when people have stolen your money,” he stated.

As the workers always state, “En la unión esta la fuerza.”

“Me siento contento que tenemos un buen grupo para seguir luchando contra todas las personas que nos quieren explotar en los trabajos (I am pleased that we have a good group to continue struggling against all of the people who want to exploit us at work),” said worker activist Alex Canales.

The EJC and WAGE would like to thank the community members who came to the forum as well as ROC-DC, DC Jobs with Justice, Trabajadores Unidos de DC, UFCW Local 400, GW Progressive Student Union, DC for Democracy, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON). Thank you for your dedication to the wage theft campaign and supporting workplace justice in DC!

For more information about the Wage Theft Prevention Act, check out the report Stolen Wages in the Nation’s Capital.

Want to join us to pack the room at the hearing for the bill on Monday, March 3? Please RSVP here. Want to testify at the hearing about your experience of wage theft? Email organizer Hannah Kane for details at hkane@dcejc.org.

Jim Graham joined the worker activists at their community meeting on wage theft.

Jim Graham joined the worker activists at their community meeting on wage theft and asked them all to come testify at the bill’s hearing on March 3.