For the past two years members of the Fe y Justicia Worker Center have brought to public attention the prevalence of wage theft in the city by taking to the streets, convening community forums, and meeting with City Council members, business owners, and community members to inform them about the direct and indirect impact of wage theft on the local economy.
The Down with Wage Theft Campaign has been a long process. The legal language of the ordinance was developed as a sound public policy proposal incorporating the demands and vision developed collectively by low-wage workers employed in various industries that had direct personal experience with wage theft. Members of the Fe y Justicia Worker Center prioritized the need to increase real consequences for companies and employers that demonstrated disregard for the dignity of workers and wage and hour laws. The ordinance was then submitted by the Fe y Justicia Worker Center with support from its legal team to Mayor Parker and City Council members, and promoted in Houston neighborhoods by constituents in each of the city council districts.
The tireless efforts of low-wage workers are paying off! The proposed ordinance was finally brought up for formal discussion at City Hall at the Public Safety Committee on July 23rd, 2013. At the Hearing, City Attorney Feldman presented an overview of the proposed ordinance and responded to questions and requests for clarification from Council Members, and then comments were open to the public. Responsible business owners, workers, and people of faith spoke out in favor of the ordinance while the full-house of over 200 supporters stood in symbolic agreement. Each speaker provided their perspective on the importance of implementing an ordinance to stop irresponsible businesses from taking advantage of families, the community, and the City of Houston by not paying workers’ the wages they owe them.
After the amazing response of our community at the public hearing, the City of Houston is seeking public input on the proposed Anti Wage Theft Ordinance through the City’s web page. Enter your support for the ANTI-WAGE THEFT ORDINANCE at the following link: http://www.houstontx.gov/feedback-wagetheft.html
Excerpts from a few speakers:
Jose Perez, a construction worker, stated: “I’m a victim of wage theft. Here is what it meant in my life: In order to survive and cover my basic needs, I had to sell my car. I also had to rely on getting my groceries from a food bank. In addition, I lost a property that I was buying because I failed to make the payment. But what frustrates me the most isn’t just the impact of wage theft on me personally, but the fact that these companies that steal our wages get away with little or no consequences”
The Public hearing showed diverse community support for the ordinance, including support from responsible business owners. Stan Marek, the CEO of Marek Brothers Construction who has been in business for 75 years, supported the ordinance, stating, “Companies that play by the rules are being strangled by competitors who are simply breaking the law. Firms that steal wages have a competitive advantage because they’re cheating in every way possible. It used to be that if you ran your business honestly and treated your workers right you could do well, but all that has changed. We can do better and we must.”
Beatris Arboleda echoed him: “As a responsible family business providing cleaning services, we faced many challenges because it is impossible to compete with irresponsible employers who avoid paying taxes and permits and are stealing wages from the workers. Therefore we endorse the wage theft ordinance because this will compel unscrupulous employers to pay the wages they owe workers. It will set a precedent in the history of Houston and be an incredible asset for the current administration because it will be a pioneer model to be followed by other cities in the state of Texas.
Reverend Ron Lister spoke about the moral and ethical responsibility of business owners and urged City Council members to vote in favor of the ordinance.
Esperanza Rodriguez a caregiver said: We are here because for all of these years we have been dealing with the symptoms of this illness of Wage Theft, and we saw that this problem was growing and expanding. So, as members of the Worker Center we agreed it was time to develop a cure for this disease that was attacking our community, and we helped develop the proposed ordinance. The Anti-Wage Theft Ordinance will also give the City of Houston the opportunity to be a pioneer in the state of Texas as the first city with an ordinance that helps to guarantee a fair environment for businesses, workers, and community members.”
Olga Castro, a restaurant worker, made the point that “many irresponsible employers are violating the law without receiving any penalty or with almost no consequences. If our legal system requires that violations like stealing be penalized, why isn’t wage theft? Therefore this ordinance is important not just to protect workers who are victims of wage theft but also to restore credibility to our government and to strengthen the integrity of our legal system. I worked 65 to 75 hours a week as a fast food worker performing multiple duties at the same time such as cook, waitress, cashier, and janitor, making minimum wages and with no overtime pay. I also was a victim of wage theft. But I’m not here because of the money that my employer owes me. I’m here because of the impunity and lack of consequences for abusive employers like this.”
Please join the Fe y Justicia Worker Center effort to ensure justice for all victims of wage theft, an equal playing field for responsible businesses, and to make the City of Houston a fair and equal work environment.
Together we are writing a transformative chapter in the City of Houston’s history.