Houston City Council Set to Vote on Wage Theft Ordinance November 13th

Houston, TX. The City of Houston, the 4th largest city in the United States, second only to New York City in the number of Fortune 500 headquarters, which as an independent nation would rank as the world’s 30th largest economy has the opportunity to set a historical precedent on November 13th. The likely passage of the proposed Wage Theft Ordinance would make Houston the first city in Texas and only the second major metropolis in the U.S. South to implement real consequences for companies found guilty of wage theft, thus leveling the playing field for ethical businesses that are at a competitive disadvantage against unscrupulous employers.

“As you can imagine, wage theft affected my life emotionally as well as financially. Eventually my dreams vanished as my rightful wages from years of hard work were stolen by an irresponsible employer,” commented Jose Perez, a husband and father who lost his home to foreclosure and was forced to sell his car because he did not receive his earned pay for residential construction work.

Perez and other Houston working families started organizing two years ago to demand City Council take a zero tolerance approach with companies engaging in wage theft. Their dedication is finally paying off with a vote on the proposed Wage Theft Ordinance anticipated for Wednesday, November 13th. The ordinance has been vetted through two Council Committee Hearings and prohibits the City from doing business with companies found guilty of wage theft.

Despite Houston’s overall economic strength and growth, many working families struggle to make ends meet. More than 100 wage and hour violations occur each week[1], affecting workers employed across multiple industries. A recent report estimates that more than $753 million in wages are illegally withheld from low-wage workers in the Houston area each year and nationally studies found that 68% of low-wage workers experienced wage violations each week.[2]

“What frustrates me the most isn’t the impact of wage theft on me personally,” Perez added, “but the fact that these companies that steal our wages get away with little or no consequences. Until it costs employers, wage theft will continue to plague our communities pushing families like mine further into poverty and further from our dreams.”

Who: Affected workers, responsible business owners, community organizations, and faith leaders will speak in favor of the proposed ordinance at the Council Public Session
What: Houston City Council Members hear public comments and vote on proposed Wage Theft Ordinance (copy available at: http://www.houstontx.gov/ordinancefeedback/wagetheft-final.pdf)
When: 9:00am November 13th, 2013
Where: Houston City Hall – Council Chambers (901 Bagby St., 2nd Fl, Houston, Texas 77002)

[1] U.S. Department of Labor. Wage and Hour Compliance Action Data.

[2] “Houston, We Have a Wage Theft Problem” (Fe y Justicia Worker Center, 2012) & “Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers (National Employment Law Project, 2009)

Wage Theft & Major Health and Safety Violations on Houston City Contract

MEDIA ADVISORY

Contact: Jose Eduardo Sanchez

Office: 713-862-8222

Mobile: 832-715-5975

HOUSTON COALITION CALLS ON CITY TO PASS WAGE THEFT ORDINANCE

IN LIGHT OF OVER $20 MILLION IN CITY CONTRACTS TO UNSCRUPULOUS COMPANY

“I’m coming forward not as a victim or even a survivor, but as a community member who knows the human impact of the disregard of workers’ human rights to fair wages and safe working environments. And I am making my voice heard, not to ask for help for myself, but because I don’t want this to happen to any other workers.” – Abraham Rodriguez

Houston, TX – Abraham Rodriguez and Luis Matute worked on city water main pipes that ruptured after last summer’s drought. The pipes are made of a combination of cement and asbestos, a fiber that when inhaled is a proven cancer-causing killer and requires utmost attention to protect workers’ health.  Unfortunately, the City of Houston awarded one of the main contracts for this work out to Reytec Construction Resources, a company with a notoriously shameful safety and health record.  This employer is on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s nation-wide list of “severe violators” of worker safety standards.

While repairing the broken water mains last summer, Reytec Construction Resources and its contractors did not follow OSHA standards relating to trenches and asbestos.  Rodriguez and Matute, and likely workers on other Reytec jobs, were exposed to airborne asbestos and were working in unshored trenches at great risk of the dirt walls falling in and burying them alive.  On top of all that, Rodriguez and Matute’s wages were illegally withheld for over two months.  After much insisting and raising concerns about the hazards they faced, Reytec Construction paid them for their two weeks of work.

As a Coalition, we are shocked and angered to learn that our tax dollars and public money is awarded to a contractor with such an egregious labor record.  Since April 2011, Reytec Construction Resources has received more than $22 million in payments from the City of Houston.  As a Coalition, we are even more frustrated that the City has no system in place to ensure that contractors working in the City have upstanding labor rights records.  This lack of accountability goes beyond city contracts, and on to the hundreds of labor violations that occur every week by Houston employers connected to the city of Houston through various permits and licenses.

The City must develop a system to  check with the government agencies and courts that are charged with enforcing basic labor laws  and ensure that employers seeking permits and licenses or submitting a bid do not have a record of violating labor laws.  We strongly urge Mayor Parker and City Council members to pass an ordinance that includes these basic protections.

City Council Public Session:      9:30 AM, Wednesday, November 14th

City HallCouncil Chambers      

WHO:                                                    Affected workers – Abraham Rodriguez and Luis Matute

Fe y Justicia Worker Center staff and members, and Down with Wage Theft Coalition

Dr. Celeste Monforton, Dept. of Environmental & Occupational Health, School of Public                            Health & Health Services, George Washington University

 

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The Down with Wage Theft Campaign is driven by a coalition of Houston community, faith, & 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 just and prosperous place to work. For more information, visit www.downwithwagetheft.org


Mobile protest confronts unscrupulous employers, calls for end to abuse of working families

For immediate release: October 23, 2012

MOBILE PROTEST CONFRONTS UNSCRUPULOUS EMPLOYERS, CALLS FOR END TO ABUSE OF WORKING FAMILIES

Four Stops, 9 Brave Working Families, Dozens of Community Supporters & Over $97,000 in Stolen Wages

Houston, TX – “He didn’t only steal my wages. He stole my plans with my family, my ability to provide for their basic needs, my being there when they needed me.” These are the words of Olga C., a Houston worker and single mother, who is still owed $2,976.42 in unpaid wages for her work at a popular local restaurant.

Olga’s employer is one of the four stops of this year’s Justice Bus, which is a mobile protest organized by the Down with Wage Theft Coalition to highlight the pervasive problem of wage theft in Houston. Other stops include a home care agency, construction contractor and a retail service shop.

Along the route, affected workers – who are supported by a bus full of faith leaders and community members, students and volunteers – will demand their hard-earned wages and call for action against this growing crime.

The Justice Bus will kick off with a press conference in front of City Hall, highlighting the inaction of the Mayor and City Council to take a preventive approach to this crime. It will continue its tour throughout the city to defend the value of our work, to expose the growing problem of wage theft in Houston, and to demand action from our City and Elected Officials.

WHAT:  Press Conference & Mobile Protest to Defend the Value of Our Work

WHEN: 9:30am, Thursday, October 25, 2012

WHERE: In front of the Houston City Hall steps; followed by stops at 4 employers around the city*

WHO: Houston working families accompanied by faith and community leaders

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The Down with Wage Theft Campaign is driven by a coalition of Houston community, faith, & 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 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

*Full route and information on individual stops will be released on Thursday morning.

Construction Employer Turns Violent After Worker Attempts to Recover Hard-Earned Wages

How far will an unscrupulous employer go to avoid rightfully paying their workers? Pretty far, especially considering the lack of consequences and near impunity employers face for this pervasive crime.

A group of Houston community members discovered this first-hand Friday morning, as they led a peaceful delegation to speak with representatives from Full Service Construction. The Houston demolition and construction company has refused to pay former worker Oscar Suazo, who reported his case of almost $2,000 owed for work completed nearly 2 years ago.

Since Oscar’s report, the Fe y Justicia Worker Center has attempted to communicate with the company regarding the wage dispute, but has only received excuses, aggressive and dismissive behavior (including “This is my company, I pay my workers whatever I want”) and ultimately, complete evasion. The worker resorted to Smalls Claims Court to recover his wages, but the employer once again simply evaded the court’s attempts to serve him, which resulted in his case being dismissed.

Seeing the impotency of the court, and the growing time without his wages, Oscar decided to appeal to his former employer’s sense of morality. A group of faith and community leaders joined Oscar to visit Full Service Construction on the southeast side of Houston, in an attempt to reach a resolution.

However, they were faced by a disdainful employer, who not only denied knowing Oscar, but once again, attempted to evade the delegation – fleeing the scene in his truck. When community members showed him a company paystub, clearly titled “Full Service Construction” with the amounts of “48 hrs @ 7.00”, he responded by making threats to the worker and the delegation.

After threatening community members with phrases such as “This will get bad if you all don’t leave” and “You don’t know what I can do to you”, the company owner, now identified as Fernando Chapa, drove back into his house. After getting out of his truck, Mr. Chapa pulled out a gun and began pointing it at the various community members standing on the public sidewalk.

Organizers of the delegation quickly alerted the Houston Police Department, who showed up to deal with the incident. After speaking with the employer and the persons directly threatened, HPD filed two reports against Mr. Chapa, one for a Labor Dispute and one for Deadly Conduct.

Mr. Chapa of Full Service Construction habitually paid his workers below minimum wage with no overtime, denied his workers of entire weeks’ worth of pay (both resulting in thousands of dollars in stolen wages), and publicly threatened community members with a gun – one would think he’s probably sitting in a jail cell this very moment. Apparently, not in our city.

The employer is free to continue making a business out of exploiting Houston workers, while Oscar, who has still not received a cent of his wages, must go back to Small Claims Court to re-file his case – losing another $104 to pay the filing fee, not to mention his time and energy.

Oscar’s case is unique because he chose to denounce his employer and bring light to his ongoing abuse. However, he’s just one of thousands of workers who undergo this type of labor abuse in the Houston area. As Oscar so eloquently put it, “The consequences are just so many, but so are the needs that people have.”

Most of us at some point have stayed in a job where we weren’t happy or knew that we weren’t being treated the way we should have. The reasons may have varied, but at that point they were enough for us to stay. Now imagine instead that your reasons aren’t saving up for a trip or waiting for a promotion, but rather, the possibility of not being able to put food on the table that evening or missing a payment for your sick family member’s medicine. Add to that equation the threat of physical violence for even attempting to assert basic respect on the job, and you might be getting closer to the reality faced by Oscar and many of his coworkers.

While this employer’s behavior is definitely extreme, worker intimidation is extremely common in silencing workplace abuse. This employer’s brazen unscrupulousness is more indicative of the lack of consequences and culture of impunity when it comes to workplace protections and enforcement of basic wage laws. It also highlights the fact that workers and community members are having to take matters into their own hands, because the systems and institutions charged with enforcing basic protections like safety and pay on the jobs are failing our workers.

As one of the faith leaders part of the delegation so keenly noted as we left: “He [the employer] stole thousands of dollars in wages and pointed a gun at a group of people, and nothing happened to him.”

Let’s remember that wage theft is not an accident; it is a calculated criminal act. Responsible, ethical business is completely possible, but unfortunately is being run down by those who choose to take the easy way out. An employer who knowingly violates labor laws is not an upstanding businessman saving a few bucks. In the end, he is hardly any different from the pickpocket or robber, and the law should treat him as such.

Houston Workers Still Suffering From Wage Theft Impunity

For Immediate Release: September 6, 2012

Contact: Jose Eduardo Sanchez, jose@hiwj.org, 832-715-5975

HOUSTON WORKERS STILL SUFFERING FROM WAGE THEFT IMPUNITY 

Diverse Coalition Joins Together to Demand a Fair Day’s Pay for a Fair Day’s Work

Houston, TX – On Friday morning, a broad coalition of Houston workers, community allies, and faith leaders will join together to demand Oscar Suazo’s due wages and denounce wage theft in the city of Houston.  As our city continues to boast of economic prosperity and becomes the new beacon for the world’s millionaires, working families like Oscar’s are being hard hit by the devastating effects of wage theft.

Oscar Suazo worked for doing construction and demolition work at various buildings in downtown Houston for his employer, Full Service Construction. Oscar was not only denied overtime pay by his employer, due to his supposed “independent contractor” status, but he was also being paid at $7/hr, below the federal minimum wage. In total, Oscar is owed $1929.66 dollars for his 6 weeks of work. To Oscar, this meant losing several months of rent, forcing him to borrow from friends and family members; weeks of having to think twice before buying a meal or refueling his car to look for other work.

Two years after he completed the work, Oscar has only a piece of paper from the small claims court and not a single cent of his $1,929.66. Meanwhile, Mr. Chapa continues to operate his business and is allowed to continue exploiting workers with impunity. Oscar decided to come forward with his case and demand justice, because he knows that he’s not the only person affected by wage theft and that thousands of workers like him in Houston deserve their fair pay and a just and prosperous place to work.

WHAT:  Protest to demand Oscar’s due wages

WHEN: 9:00 am, Friday September 7, 2012

WHERE: Full Service Construction, Inc., 6935 Moss Rose St, Houston, TX 77087

WHO: Oscar Suazo, Houston workers, community & faith leaders

WHY:  To demand Oscar’s due wages, denounce the impunity of unscrupulous employers who exploit Houston’s low-wage workers

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