Working 6 days a week sometimes up to 12 hour days, often with no breaks and in a cramped space with no fire extinguishers, marked exits, or adequate ventilation – among other safety and health violations – may sound like a scene from a sweatshop in a remote country, but for Maria Cristina Galvan and Santos Claudia Villanueva, this was their reality for almost 8 months here in the fourth largest city in the U.S.
The two Houston women were employed in a warehouse by C&E Exports Inc., a Houston wholesale clothing company, manufacturing shoes & bags, sorting large clothing shipments, and loading and unloading heavy merchandise crates. They initially came to the Worker’s Center because they weren’t fully paid for their last weeks of work. However, on top of enduring these dire working conditions, we discovered the workers were never paid overtime and were both making below minimum wage! They are currently owed over $6,500 in stolen wages.
On Friday October 21, HIWJ, along with over 40 workers, faith leaders, & community allies, accompanied the workers to the site of their former employer to demand their back wages and a stop to labor abuses in Houston. They were joined by Good Jobs = Great Houston as well as Occupy Houston protesters to stand up for worker’s rights in a time in a time when large corporations are profiting off of the hard labor of some of the most vulnerable in our communities.
Upon arrival at the C&E warehouse at 518 W. 25th St., the owner was tipped off and immediately fled the premises. When we attempted to speak with the supervisor at the warehouse, we were also brushed away and later saw her running out the back of the building to drive off in her car. After unsuccessfully waiting for a response from someone at C&E, we delivered a demand on behalf of the workers signed by HIWJ and the over 40 supporters at the workers.
Workers like Cristina and Claudia, who are part of the working families that help create our city’s economy, deserve more than sweatshop working conditions and stolen wages. They are only two of thousands of Houston workers subject to these types of corrosive jobs which threaten the well-being of our communities and economy. Thanks to everyone who showed up to support the workers and stood up against these labor abuses in our city!