“I didn’t know that the union could help recover wages,” says Mauricio, who was recommended to LUPE by a member when he and his father weren’t being paid by their employer. “They gave us the run around. They didn’t want to pay us what they owed us.”
Mauricio came to LUPE, where organizer Cristela Rocha helped him with his case. “Here they treated us very friendly and helped us with a letter and phone calls.” Rocha worked with Mauricio and his father to contact their employer, sending a certified letter demanding the employer pay what the workers were owed and making follow up calls.
“We were going to go to court already when the Señora Cristela Rocha made one last call [to the employer] and I also told him that we were going to take him to court. The supervisor called me back to tell me to go pick up my money. And I want to give thanks to La Union del Pueblo.”
LUPE works with members to recover unpaid wages by putting the strength of the union behind an individual’s claim. No more is the worker going up against the power of his or her employer alone, but has the backing of an organization experienced in defending workers’ rights.
Fuerza del Valle, the new workers center started by LUPE, South Texas Civil Rights Project, and other members of the Equal Voice network, is continuing and strengthening the fight against wage theft in the RGV.
STCRP lawyer Elliott Tucker says that wage theft, the illegal denial or underpayment of wages, is a common problem for low wage workers in the Valley and across the state. In an interview with Town Crier colomnist Nick Braune, Tucker said that there are two major types of wage theft: “Simply stringing along the workers, telling them it will be another week or so before they will be paid… And the second most common one is just as simple, paying the workers less than minimum wage.”
“Greed and ignorance are the driving force behind wage thefts,” Tucker says. “The range of excuses for non-payment runs the gamut from ‘But I didn’t get paid either’ to ‘You didn’t do a good job.’ However, under federal and state law, an honest day’s work deserves an honest day’s pay. No excuses.”
Tucker continues: “More disturbingly, in the Valley confused individuals feel that just because a worker does not have a social security number, they can pay that worker whatever they want. Oftentimes these individuals feel they are doing the worker a favor and get offended when the reality of the law comes barking. However, state and national law set the wage rate for all human beings, regardless of immigration status.”
Fuerza will be continuing to offer free consultations with labor lawyers twice a month in Hidalgo and Cameron Counties. If you or someone you know has experienced wage theft, please come to the LUPE San Juan office the first Tuesday of every month at 6pm for a free consultation with labor lawyers.
And to learn more about your labor rights and how to defend them in front of the Justice of the Peace, visit our San Juan office on Thursday, September 9th at 6pm.
Thanks are due to Nick Braune for exposing this issue in the Town Crier and for letting me take quotes from his interview for this piece.