Houstonians Expose Impacts of Wage Theft on Victims Ignored by City Council

Carisa Episcopal Pastor“My father worked as a truck driver but his employer didn’t pay him more than $2000 dollars that he owed him on wages. My family was not able to pay rent, utilities, or to fulfill our basic needs including my college tuition or my mother’s diabetes medication while he was a victim of wage theft” said Adalinda Guajardo to City Council Members this past Tuesday, October 15, 2013. To Adalinda, justice for wage theft is necessary for the overall wellbeing of Houston communities.

Pawn Shop BoothAfter two years of diligently pursuing a strong public policy that establishes real consequences for employers that steal wages, 70 participants from the Down With Wage Theft Coalition, which is spearheaded by Fe y Justicia Worker Center and includes business, community and religious leaders, held a press conference and satire outside of City Hall, demanding City Council Members to publicly declare whose side they are on. Participants performed the satire to emphasize the reality many low-wage workers face when they are victims of wage theft as well as highlight the direct and indirect impacts of wage theft on the local economy. A booth was set up with CHIP, Food Stamps (TANF), and WIC applications to accommodate the need for government assistance when workers already living under the federal poverty level are driven further into poverty. The booth also held items ranging from laptops and TVs to jewelry for sale in a mock pawn shop as many low-wage workers are forced to resort to pawning their possessions in order to make ends meet when they are victims of wage theft.

Council Member Andrew Burks
After the press conference, participants marched to the City Annex to meet personally with City Council Members asking for their commitment and support for the proposed ordinance. Staffers from District A’s Helena Brown, District F’s Al Hoang, District J’s Mike Laster, and At-Large 2 Andrew Burks were greeted in the hallway by members of the coalition, including many who have been personally impacted by wage theft, shared their testimonies with Council Members and their staff. Council Member Burks embraced the participants’ zeal for justice and invited the group into his office and committed to support the Anti-Wage Theft Ordinance.

Afterwards, at the City Council Public Session, low-wage workers shared their testimonies and the effects wage theft has had on their families’ lives and economic stability. Adalinda Guajardo, the daughter of a victim of wage theft, presented Council Members with over 1,000 letters she and other FWJC members collected in their respective districts that stated support for the Anti-Wage Theft Ordinance. Durrel Douglas, Texas State Director of Working America, also presented to Council Members over 1,000 handwritten letters by thousands of Houstonians who are demanding City Council act now and support the ordinance.

The Wage Theft Ordinance has been met with grand fervor by the Houston community. If passed, the proposed Anti-Wage Theft ordinance would make Houston the first city in Texas and the 2nd major metropolis in the US South that would create real consequences to companies that have a documented record of failing to pay their employees their legally owed wages. On its third and likely final draft, the ordinance is expected to be up for full Council vote within the next few weeks.

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