Workers Rally and Testify to Stop Wage Theft in DC

On Friday, workers braved the last of the wintry weather to continue to send the message to the DC Council that they must put an end to wage theft. More than 75 workers, community members, unions, and advocates turned out to the rally and hearing to hear worker testimony in favor of the Wage Theft Prevention Act of 2014.

Co-introduced by Councilmembers Orange (At-Large), Graham (Ward 1) and Cheh (Ward 3), the bill would amend District law to provide a transparent, efficient, and reliable process to file and resolve wage claims, thereby keeping dishonest and unscrupulous employers accountable and ensuring that the rights of workers across the District are upheld and respected.

During the press conference, DC Jobs with Justice Executive Director Nikki Lewis fired up the crowd with chants of “No. More. Wage. Theft!” Several workers then shared their stories of wage theft. “This cannot happen right

Reynaldo Cruz fired up the crowd at the Wage Theft Prevention Act rally

Reynaldo Cruz fired up the crowd at the Wage Theft Prevention Act rally

next to where all the laws are made in this country,” stated Reynaldo Cruz, a victim of wage theft who later testified at the hearing. “If you work for someone, whether for a half hour or an hour, you have the right to get paid.”

Once the hearing began, one after another, workers stepped forward to testify about times when their employer had not paid them, the consequences that resonated throughout their lives for months afterwards, and their experiences with the Office of Wage-Hour.

“Me contrató a $15 la hora, y con engaño logró que le trabajara 10 semanas y por cobrar el resto me despidieron (I was hired at a rate of $15 an hour, and he tricked me into working for him for ten weeks, and then fired me when I tried to get him to pay me the rest),” stated worker activist Gregorio

Worker activist Gregorio Hernandez testifies about his experience of wage theft.

Worker activist Gregorio Hernandez testifies about his experience of wage theft.

Hernandez. Ultimately, his employer only paid him part of his wages at a rate of $11 per hour. “Yo fui a la Oficina de Salarios y Horarios y solo me dejaron reclamar $11 la hora (I went to the Office of Wage-Hour and they only let me file my claim for $11 an hour).”

“El impacto del robo de pagó fue desorden económico, problemas emocionales con la familia (The impact of the wage theft was economic disaster, emotional problems with family),” stated worker activist Jonny Castillo.  “Tuve que pedir prestado dinero para poder solucionar las deudas pertinentes del mes, comida, renta, ropa, medicina (I had to ask to borrow money to be able to pay my expenses for that month, food, rent, clothing, medicine).”

Worker activist Jonny Castillo both spoke at the rally and testified about his experience of wage theft.

Worker activist Jonny Castillo both spoke at the rally and testified about his experience of wage theft.

Twenty-three workers, including EJC worker activists and members of Trabajadores Unidos de DC, Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC-DC), and Good Jobs Nation testified about their experience with wage theft, and many more who were unable to attend the hearing submitted their testimony in writing.

EJC Deputy Director Ari Weisbard testified about the critical importance of the performance of the Office of Wage-Hour. Over 400 workers have come to the EJC’s Workers’ Rights Clinic in the past two years with allegations of wage theft. “The most common complaint of the 1200 workers we see a year is wage theft,” he stated.

“OWH reports that it has not collected any liquidated damages or penalties from perpetrators, which means that there is no effective incentive for employers to avoid breaking the law,” said Weisbard. “It is as if we told muggers that they would not face any penalty as long as they gave you your wallet back.”

Councilmember Orange thanked the workers for coming forward to share their personal stories for the record. The EJC thanks Councilmember Orange for his leadership on this issue and looks forward to working with him to get this bill passed quickly.

Some EJC worker activists with DC Jobs with Justice allies after the hearing

Some EJC worker activists with DC Jobs with Justice allies after the hearing