The Not-So-Sweet Truth About Working Without Pay

Yenny worked at a small Houston candy shop, making and packing sweets, filling orders, and dealing with customers. Things were fine, until her employer started getting behind with her paychecks. At first, they were a couple of weeks late, but eventually she would get paid. After a while, checks were not only late, but they were also incomplete. When Yenny became weary of this new habit, her employer tried to appease her by telling her that she would make up for the missing amounts on the next check, and then the next, until pretty soon, Yenny was owed thousands of dollars in back pay.

The employer continued with excuses about not having enough money, having landlord issues, etc… and kept reassuring Yenny that she would eventually get paid. Shortly after Easter of 2011, one of the busiest and most profitable times for the candy shop, Yenny decided to leave her job, instead of allowing her employer to continue taking her money. At this point, her employer had withheld $11,000 accumulated from the systematic wage deductions over her employment.

Even after she left her job, her employer kept promising that those wages would soon reappear. Yenny reported her case to the DOL’s Wage & Hour division, but was told that there was nothing they could do to help her out. Because the candy shop had only 3 employees and grossed less than $500,000 a year, Yenny was excluded from receiving the help she so desperately needed to recover her wages. $11,000 in the hole and unsure where to turn for help, Yenny was faced with yet another shock. Her husband, Peter who was working as a maintenance and repair man, was terminated from his job and his employer also refused to pay him for his last week of work.

The couple came to the worker center in September 2011 to seek help on both of their wage theft cases. As they sat in a crowded room listening to a worker’s rights presentation, with their young son in tow, they discovered many of their own experiences were common for most of the people around them. Working mothers and fathers, trying to provide for their families – yet  deprived of their hard-earned wages and left with withering hope. However, the couple has grown stronger in their fight to recover their wages and win justice for their family. They have faced many challenges, both financial and emotional, and due to the many limitations they’ve encountered with the system, they hope to make real changes so that other families like theirs are not faced with the same despair.


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