Category Archives: Fuerza del Valle

LUPE’s organizing against wage theft getting stronger

Worker learning his rights

“Although we’re undocumented, we have rights.”

Rosario Contreras has dedicated herself to educating those around her about the rights that all immigrants have, whether documented or not. For that reason she is being trained to advocate for workers’ whose wages have been stolen.

“They abuse us because we don’t have documents. They don’t pay us the minimum wage and many of us aren’t paid at all.”

LUPE member Rosario Contreras helps lead training

At the training, organized by South Texas Civil Rights Project and LUPE, members learned that, although you might not have documents, you still have the right to organize, the right to be paid for your work, and the right to the minimum wage.

“The training was about the rights that we have, as people without documents, and how we can defend ourselves from bosses that want to abuse us,” Rosario said.

Organizer Cris Rocha trains LUPE leaders on worker rights

STCRP and LUPE are training leaders that can advocate for the rights of their fellow members and therefore better tackle the rampant problem of wage theft in the Valley. STCRP and LUPE are part of Fuerza del Valle, a new workers’ center dedicated to organizing for workers’ rights in the Rio Grande Valley.

LUPE and Fuerza del Valle work to recover unpaid wages

Fuerza Lawyer Elliott Tucker interviews workers about their wage theft case

Fuerza Lawyer Elliott Tucker interviews workers about their wage theft case

“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.

Fuerza del Valle meets with Austin’s Proyecto Defensa Laboral

Members of PDL and Equal Voice's Jobs working group meet to talk collaboration

Members of PDL and Equal Voice's Jobs working group meet to talk collaboration

Earlier this month, members of the Economic Stability and Jobs working group of the Equal Voice Network of the RGV held an important meeting with Proyecto Defensa Laboral (Workers Defense Project) to discuss collaboration between PDL and the new Valley workers center, Fuerza del Valle. Proyecto Defensa Laboral is building a campaign of construction workers across Texas for state policy changes that address the high rates of worker injury and death on the job. The Build a Better Texas Campaign will unite labor organizations, people of faith, community organizations and individuals who want just working conditions for the hard working men and women who build our communities.

Proyecto Defensa Laboral is a workers center in Austin that works closely with low wage and immigrant workers, both to address immediate needs—recovery of unpaid wages, injury compensation, workplace abuse—and to organize for long-term structural change. The center, which is at the forefront of the workers center movement, integrates political education and leadership development into their program, allowing the center to be run and directed by low wage and immigrant workers themselves.

PDL’s current policy focus is on the construction industry, since so many of the organization’s worker members who have suffered from workplace abuse are construction workers. PDL forged alliances with community organizations, unions, churches, and responsible businesses in the local area to better working conditions in Austin. The group they have formed is called the Build a Better Austin Coalition.

However, with the state legislative session coming up, the group hopes to expand the campaign’s reach by meeting with organizations and workers all over the state who are interested in collaborating with and strengthening the coalition. Through the Building a Better Texas Campaign, the coalition’s construction worker members want to address issues on the state level by passing legislation and affecting public policy related to the high rate of death on the job (over 140 per year in Texas, much greater than in any other state), lack of rest breaks and drinking water, wage theft, lack of workers compensation, and lack of safety training.

The Jobs working group, of which LUPE is a part, seeks the input of successful organizations like PDL to make sure Fuerza develops into a strong tool for protecting the rights of workers in the RGV.