On March 20th, 2012, despite rain, flooded streets and tornado warnings, over 100 Houstonians – workers, responsible business owners, and community, faith and labor allies – gathered for a march and rally in front of City Hall demanding action from council members and the Mayor to end wage theft.
Speakers at the rally included: Council Member Wanda Adams who presented a proclamation on behalf of the City denouncing wage theft and declaring March 20th “Wage Theft Awareness Day”, Kim Bobo, the National Executive Director and Founder of Interfaith Worker Justice, Deacon Sam Dunning, Director of the Office of Justice and Peace of the Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, and Cindy Gutowski and Adalinda Rodriguez, active members of the Houston Interfaith Worker Justice Center whose families have been directly affected by wage theft. Many other great community leaders also spoke on the wide-spread effects of wage theft in Houston and the need for action from our city officials.
Organized by the Down with Wage Theft Coalition of 29 organizations led by the Houston Interfaith Worker Justice Center, the rally’s cry for justice was confirmed to have reached the Mayor Parker’s ears while city council was still in session. She and city council members also heard testimonies on the need for a Wage Theft Ordinance earlier that afternoon from Kim Bobo, Stan Marek, Owner of Marek Brothers Systems Inc. a renown commercial construction company, Laura Perez-Boston, Director of the Houston Interfaith Worker Justice Center, and Cindy Gutowski who continues to fight for the over $7,000 of wages her former employer at a Floral Shop in Memorial owes her.
The proposed ordinance, developed through a visioning session with worker members of the Houston Interfaith Worker Justice Center, was submitted to the City’s legal department in early February including provisions for an administrative hearing process to be housed in the Office of Business Opportunities where a worker could bring forth a claim and entitle them to benefits. It also includes provisions that would ban companies found guilty of wage theft from getting city contracts and businesses licenses and permits needed to continue operating in the city.
“In the context we’re living in today with unemployment still high and the cost of living steadily rising, Houston needs jobs; but not just any jobs. Houston needs employment that sustains and supports a family, and helps our local economy grow stronger. Our jobs should be a pathway out of poverty, not a perpetuation of poverty.
When Texas leads the nation in the highest percentage of minimum wage jobs (tied only with Mississippi), when working parents are often left juggling multiple jobs to make ends meet, and when the incidence of wage and hour violations is as high as 1 in 4 for workers in low-wage industries, it’s clear workers are being left with the short end of the stick. It is conservatively estimated that $1.2 billion dollars of earned wages are stolen from Houston workers each year.
We believe that in the 4th largest city in the United States, second only to New York City in the number of Fortune 500 headquarters, which as an independent nation would rank as the world’s 30th largest economy, all of Houston’s residents should be able to prosper and wage thieves should face real consequences.”
Check out more pictures here and a video of IWJ Executive Director Kim Bobo, speaking at the Rally: