Due to the extent of the problem of wage theft in Houston, and especially it’s impact on low-income minority communities, the workers and members of Fe y Justicia Worker Center in Houston, Texas, decided to stand up and to fight back for what belongs to them: not just to claim their salaries that were stolen but also to fight for their dignity.
When workers learned that the City of Houston was scheduling Capital Improvement Project (CIP) meetings in the neighborhoods to address the planning for various improvements, the workers organized to participate in these public meetings in order to call the attention of the City Council members to the Wage Theft issue affecting workers and its widespread impact on the community.
On March 5, workers attended the CIP meeting in District C. Adalinda Guajardo, a daughter of a worker who was a victim of wage theft tried to address this issue. The staff of City Council member Ellen Cohen was very strongly opposed to letting Adalinda talk in the public meeting. But she did not give up and claimed her right to freedom of speech. She took the microphone and proudly represented her community.
When Adalinda Guajardo stated: “My understanding is that this meeting is to discuss infrastructure improvements in our neighborhood. This is very important because our streets and community buildings need good maintenance, but we think there is also a need to improve some regulations for the wellbeing of our communities.“ Ciy Council Member Ellen Cohen interrupted her several times trying to stop Adalinda’s speech. However, Adalinda was firm in her statement until the end.
On March 6, workers decided to attend the District J CIP public meeting. City Council Member, Mark Lester, welcomed workers. He acknowledged the Fe y Justicia Worker Center members attending the meeting saying, “they are bringing an important message to the community.”
Mitzi Ordoñez, a victim of wage theft in the restaurant industry stated, “Wage Theft is an epidemic in our city and we think that it’s time to fulfill the promises made to our community not just to improve our neighborhood but also to improve our lives.” At the end many people attending the meeting congratulated Mitzi for her statement. City Council member Lester also approached her and thanked her for her participation.
On March 19, workers attended the CIP Meeting of District B, but when City Council Member Jerry Davis, saw the team of “canaries” (workers wearing the yellow shirts of the Fe y Justicia Worker Center), he changed the program. At the end he did not let the public take the microphone to put their questions on the floor; instead he closed the meeting as soon the report was made and said that some tables were set out in the back in case the public had questions. Workers approached CCM Davis to talk with him about Wage Theft, but he told them, “I’m busy right now, but you can schedule a meeting with my staff later.” The workers went to his staff requesting the meeting, but they were told that they can call the office to follow up.
On March 21, members of the Fe y Justicia Worker Center attended the meeting of district K with CCM Larry Green. Again, workers were told that just projects for improvement in the neighborhoods could be addressed in the meeting. Jose Guajardo raised the point of a big flooding problem at Willowbend and Hillcroft. In the maps given out, this area was marked as an area of greater need, but it did not appear in the list of projects; instead it was marked as not funded. The CIP speakers responded to Jose’s concern about the neighborhood with a long story that they do not have money in this cycle for that project, and Jose responded addressing the Wage Theft Problem.
Jose said, “I want to bring an important issue to the floor. We are constituents of your district and wage theft is a big problem in this district. If the wages that we already earned are stolen by employers, we will not be able to fulfill our needs. As a consequence of this, we will not have money for spending and local responsible businesses’ sales will go down. Furthermore, payroll taxes will not be paid so all of us lose out on important funding for education, public services, and security in our community.”
Jose was honored putting in the spotlight the message of his coworkers and educating the community about Wage’s Theft.
On March 27, Fe and Justicia worker members appeared in the CIP meeting of District E where City Council member Dave Martin told to the workers, “Keep me posted about wage theft. What’s going on?” the workers explained to him and he said. “If a company does not pay the wages to the workers that they already earned, it’s fair what you’re doing.” Griselda Lopez, the wife of a construction worker, took the microphone and stated: “It’s time to pass an ordinance to sanction abusive employers that steal wages!! NOW!!”
When the team of canaries of the Fe y Justicia Worker Center arrived at every CIP meeting they were recognized as the Wage Theft Workers. Some City Council members tried to stop them, others listened to them. What is important is that what they did mobilizing on the streets and in the CIP meetings gave them the power to be at the table discussing the need for an ordinance with the Mayor Annise Parker. They were empowered and gained respect for themselves and for the Wage Theft cause. SI SE PUEDE!
The Wage Theft Campaign is driven by a coalition of Houston community, faith, and labor organizations, responsible businesses and individuals who believe in standing up for workers’ rights to a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work and making Houston a zero-tolerance place for wage’s theft and a just and prosperous place to work. The campaign is spear-headed by the Fe y Justicia Worker Center and supported by the coalition. To learn more about the campaign and what you can do to bring down wage theft in Houston, visit www.downwithwagetheft.org