Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘R.M. Arrieta’

Good News for Wage-Theft Victims in San Francisco

Friday, August 5th, 2011

R.M. ArrietaWage theft is a national epidemic: It’s estimated that $30 billion or more is stolen from U.S. workers every year by employers.

In San Francisco, the Board of Supervisors yesterday took a major step to prevent wage theft and protect low-wage workers by unanimously approving the Wage Theft Prevention Ordinance. Mayor Edwin Lee still has to sign it into law.

“While Washington was engaged in a manufactured crisis over the debt ceiling, workers and their advocates were working together with ethical businesses and government officials to make a real difference for working people and their families in San Francisco,” stated  Kim Bobo, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice.

Co-sponsored by Supervisors David Campos and Eric Mar, the ordinance, among other things, will slap stiffer penalties on employers who disregard the law and strengthen the ability of the city’s Office of Labor Standards and Enforcement to do its job.

The measure would do the following:

  • double penalties fro employers who retaliate against workers who stand up for themselves (i.e., try to enforce local labor laws).
  • penalize employers who refuse to post notice of minimum wage requirements, who neglect to notify their workers when a workplace investigation is being conducted, or who fail to comply with settlement agreements following a dispute.
  • allow investigators to immediately cite employers for violations.
  • establish a timeline in which worker complaints must be addressed,  and allow investigators to immediately cite employers for violations.

The Wage Theft Prevention Ordinance was drafted in partnership with theProgressive Workers Alliance, which launched the Campaign to End Wage Theft this past May.

The PWA has helped Bay Area workers recover almost half a million dollars in stolen wages via legal claims, suits, employer negotiations and community campaigns.

Many victims of wage theft are recent immigrants who speak little English. They work in restaurants, as domestic workers, day laborers and the garment industry.

Many don’t know what the laws are, and even if they do they are reluctant to report for fear of losing their jobs.

But there are places that treat their workers well. For that, Young Workers United launched a “Dining With Justice” which lists of local businesses that treat workers fairly.

Low-wage restaurant workers often speak of not being granted breaks, having their tips stolen, not being paid for sick days, not being paid overtime, nor for all the hours they work.

The Chinese Progressive Association conducted a study that found 76 percent of employees did not receive overtime pay when they worked more than 40 hours a week. Approximately half were not paid San Francisco’s minimum wage of $9.92 an hour.

Take, for instance, the case of a Chinatown restaurant being sued by the City of San Francisco for $440,000 in wages plus interest for seven employees.

In their complaint, workers say they were paid twice a month with earnings of about $550, which comes out to approximately $3.02 to $3.91 an hour. All worked six days a week, 11 to 14 hours a day.

“Robbing employees of wages to which they’re entitled doesn’t just hurt working families—it also hurts honest businesses and their employees by corrupting a competitive marketplace,” stated City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

Herrera said the case stands out even “among the most egregious perpetrators of wage theft in San Francisco. They paid wages well below the legal minimum, demanded long hours with no overtime, instructed workers to lie to labor investigators, and retaliated against those who sought to protect their rights.”

An attorney for the Dick Lee Pastry owners claimed the workers lied.

Donna Levitt of the San Francisco Office of Labor Standard Enforcement, (OLSE) the agency in charge of overseeing claims of employers withholding wages, told the SF Bay Guardian that 500 claims of wage theft have been handled by the office since the minimum wage law was put in place in 2004.  The office has a staff of 16 to enforce labor law. Last year they received 81 complaints about wage theft.

Since the wage law, San Francisco has recovered nearly $4.4 million in back wages for workers according to OLSE.

Supervisor Campos told the Guardian: “The fact is that even though we have minimum wage laws in place, those laws are still being violated not only throughout the country, but here in San Francisco.”

This article originally appeared on the Working In These Times blog on August 4, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: R.M. Arrieta was born and raised in Los Angeles. She has worked at three daily newspapers and two television stations and is a former editor of the Bay Area’s independent community bilingual biweekly El Tecolote. She currently lives in San Francisco, where she is a freelance journalist writing for a variety of outlets. She can be reached at rmarrieta@inthesetimes.com.

Domestic Workers Rights Bill Moves Forward in California

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

R.M. ArrietaA Domestic Workers Rights bill is winding through California’s Capitol.

This week the California Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee voted in favor (5-2) of a domestic rights bill, but some tough concessions have been made, including the removal of vacation and sick day provisions from the bill.

One former domestic worker told KPFA: “In this labor committee hearing we lost vacation days, but we understand not all workers have paid vacation days. But we also earlier lost sick days, so most of the workers were going to use vacation days for sick days.”

Even so, the historic bill would provide some basic labor protections for the state’s estimated 200,000 domestic workers, which include nannies, caregivers and housekeepers.

Domestic workers, who are primarily immigrant women, are isolated and vulnerable to the whims of their employers. Workers are reluctant to complain to anyone about unfair pay, working more hours than they are paid, lack of breaks or sexual harassment, for fear of losing their jobs.

Many of the workers provide the main income in their families. According to a report released in 2007 “Behind Closed Doors,” 54 percent of the women interviewed were the main providers. In addition, 72 percent supported families in their country of origin.

The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights would give these workers leverage to be treated fairly by creating guidelines for employers of domestic workers.

The bill, sponsored by Asssembly member Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee for approval and after that, to the full senate.

“We are making progress. It was a six-year project in New York State. Hopefully our bill will get to the governor’s desk,” said Quintin Mecke, Ammiano’s spokesman.

Just last year, a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights passed in New York.

Currently, domestic workers are excluded from all rights provided to all other California workers under Wage Order 15 — wage and hour protections.

“(The) committee vote was a historic step forward for the rights of domestic workers in California. For decades domestic work has been excluded from both state and federal labor laws and worker exploitation in this industry has remained invisible and unmonitored. AB 889 will end that by establishing the same basic protections under the law that many of us take for granted,” Ammiano said.

Historically, domestic workers have been exempted from laws that protect other workers and guarantee certain standards—such as fair wages, a safe and healthy workplaces, worker compensation, meal and rest breaks, overtime wages.

Said Jessica Lehman, employer of a personal attendant in her home and a member of Hand in Hand: Domestic Employer Association: “Employers have a vested self-interest in this campaign by working to support the (bill). We are investing in building communication and trust with workers who support some of the most intimate parts of our lives, providing home care to people with disabilities and elders, or caring for our children and our homes.”

The bill now goes to the fiscal committee, where it must also be approved before it goes to a final senate vote. It still needs to be signed into law by governor Jerry Brown, who recently vetoed a farm workers labor bill.

The domestic workers bill has received wide support from labor rights coalitions across the state.

There has been international attention to domestic workers rights as well. On June 16, the International Labor Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, passed a convention recognizing domestic work as “work.”

This blog originally appeared in These Times on July 8, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: R.M. Arrieta was born and raised in Los Angeles. She has worked at three daily newspapers and two television stations and is a former editor of the Bay Area’s independent community bilingual biweekly El Tecolote. She currently lives in San Francisco, where she is a freelance journalist writing for a variety of outlets. She can be reached at rmarrieta@inthesetimes.com.

Mexican Grocery Chain Workers Sue for Unpaid Wages in Silicon Valley

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

R.M. ArrietaSAN FRANCISCO—More than 50 former workers at a now-defunct supermarket chain in Santa Clara County (aka Silicon Valley and San Jose) are suing their former employer for unpaid wages.

The two-store chain went bankrupt after being open less than three years and  receiving half a million dollars in assistance from the city’s economic development department. The announcement came from the Bay Area Justice for Mercado Workers Coalition and San Francisco-based Instituto Laboral de la Raza (ILR). (Mexican grocery stores are known as “mercados.”)

The workers are seeking more than $200,000 in unpaid wages and penalties. The former Su Vianda workers were fired last June. Marc L. TerBeek, general counsel for ILR, is representing the group.

TerBeek said in a prepared statement that they are suing the listed owner of the chain, Kimomex; the president, Al Lujan; the board of directors; the parent company, Pacific Community Ventures, along with its board of directors, because

…Kimomex’s efforts to evade responsibility for their claims by filing bankruptcy revealed that it was a shell organization that did not maintain any books or records, and which could not account for any revenues it had generated, including a $500,000 investment the City of San Jose made in 2008 with taxpayer funds.

mercado-250x188

The Justice for Mercado Workers Campaign holds a press conference in San Jose, Calif., in December 2009. (Photo via People's World)

According to the complaint, Kimomex, doing business as Su Vianda, owned and operated a chain of ethnic-oriented supermarkets that catered to predominantly Latino customers.

The suit says the workers were denied rest periods, meal breaks and overtime pay, while Su Vianda/Kimomex deducted earnings for medical insurance that was never purchased and engaged in “the unlawful business practice of failing to pay final earned wages to employees it terminated.”

When the workers were fired in June 2010, Kimomex sought bankruptcy protection but then could not account for its liabilities or assets, nor were there corporate books or records.

The supermarket chain did not pay final earned wages to workers it terminated and deducted wages for medical insurance that was never obtained. The workers were told they were not entitled to rest period and meal breaks.

The workers are calling for a jury trial.

Calls to Kiromex’s San Jose headquarters were unanswered. TerBeek says the workes are owned at least $75,000 in unpaid wages and $150,000 in penalties for failure to pay them as promised.

The Coalition of Bay Area Mercado workers includes community, labor and faith-based groups who are looking at ethnic grocery stores, commonly called “mercados” to comply with state and federal laws for workers as well as to help them fight for their right to form a union.

Local 5 President Ron Lind remarked during a press conference in December,  “We have a broader mission in the labor movement and as a union. That is to advocate on behalf of all the workers in the industries we represent, including those in the mercados [Mexican markets]…”

About 30,000 Californians work in mercados throughout the state, many of them recent immigrants from Latin America and Asia.

The Justice for Mercado Workers Campaign, which consists of several community organizations and USCW Local 5, has developed a Code of Conduct to empower Latino and Asian mercado workers through labor organizing activities.

In the Bay Area, it is estimated there are some 12,000 mercados workers. Many are paid poverty wages, and their employers don’t observe labor law, which means they don’t get meals and rest breaks, and endure verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse.

This blog originally appeared on http://www.inthesetimes.com on March 3, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: R.M. Arrieta was born and raised in Los Angeles. She has worked at three daily newspapers and two television stations and is a former of the Bay Area’s independent community bilingual biweekly El Tecolote. She currently lives in San Francisco, where she is a freelance journalist writing for a variety of outlets. She can be reached at rmarrieta@inthesetimes.com.

‘Deeper Into the Shadows’: The Aftermath of ICE’s Audits and Enforcement Strategy

Friday, February 18th, 2011

R.M. ArrietaA new report issued by the Immigration Policy Center, “Deeper into the Shadows: The Unintended Consequence of Immigration Worksite Enforcement,” examines what happens to workers after an I-9 audit, wherein the federal governmet inspects employment eligibility forms employers keep on file for each worker.

The results aren’t pretty.

Aftermath of an audit

In Minneapolis, 1,200 workers were fired from ABM Industries, a major building-services contractor, after an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) audit. Staff members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 26, the janitors’ union in Minneapolis, surveyed 50 of the workers and found they had on average worked seven years at ABM and were equally composed of men and women.

Of the 50 fired ABM workers surveyed, 31 had found work but now are making 40 percent less than their ABM wages. Fewer than half said they would report their wages to the IRS.

(Most of the surveyed workers are Mexican nationals with an average age of 38. They had lived in the U.S. between six and 24 years, with half arriving before 1999. Thirty-four had children born in the United States. Only nine said they would return to their homeland.)

Last October and December, about 100 workers at two St. Paul, Minn., companies in cattle hide processing and tanning lost their jobs after ICE audits.

On Thursday, January 20, 2011, eight people were arrested after protesting inside of a Chipotle restaurant in Minneapolis. In December, Chipotle fired more than 100 Latino workers following ICE audits. See video below profiling one fired Chipotle worker.   (Photo courtesy Workday Minnesota)

On Thursday, January 20, 2011, eight people were arrested after protesting inside of a Chipotle restaurant in Minneapolis. In December, Chipotle fired more than 100 Latino workers following ICE audits. See video below profiling one fired Chipotle worker. (Photo courtesy Workday Minnesota)

Audits at Chipotle Mexican Grill chain, based in Denver, resulted in the firings of at least 100 people in 50 of the chain’s restaurants. (See SEIU video below profiling one worker.) Company spokesman Chris Arnold called it a “heartbreaking situation to lose so many excellent employees” but pointed out that the ICE audit left the company’s hands tied. He said the company asked ICE for an extra 90 days so that the workers could present valid papers, but officials denied their request.

Union officials say the enforcement is not forcing undocumented immigrants to leave the country so much as pushing them into an underground economy that is making them poorer.

When one woman lost her job at ABM, her daughter dropped out of high school to help support the family. She now works seven days a week, two shifts a day in a factory and makes $8.65 an hour without overtime or health benefits.

One worker dismissed from ABM found another seven-day-a-week janitorial job that pays him $25 a night in cash. His hourly rate depends on his speed. “Sometimes its like, $5 an hour,” he said.  He has two U.S.-born children and has no intention of leaving the country. He says:  “I don’t know what’s going to happen to the kids if they catch me. We don’t go outside. We don’t go to church now.”

The Immigration Policy Center report, released on February 9, found that money is slowly being withdrawn from the local economy and people are relying on the barter system.

For example, one man pays less rent in exchange for landscaping. Another shovels snow or tunes up cars in exchange for childcare. According to immigrants interviewed in the report, the use of “tandas” is increasing. A tanda is a revolving credit system based on trust. Participants agree to pool their money. Members of the pool receive that money which they have to repay.

Bad for companies—and the economy?

Companies are also taking a hit. One firm had to fire 150 out of its 200 workers.

According to ICE guidelines, agents who enforce worksite laws must look for evidence of worker mistreatment, trafficking, smuggling, harboring, visa fraud, identification document fraud and money laundering. But a lack of transparency makes it difficult to find out whether the guidelines are even being followed.

John Keller, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center in Minnesota asked, “What are the priorities of this kind of I-9 auditing? It’s a strategy that has a high political value in trying to prove they’re doing enforcement…and going after the bad apples, the worst employers. But the reality is that ABM did not have a serious record of being a bad actor. Why was that a priority?”

Is ICE violating its pledge to go after the worst cases of worker mistreatment?

SEIU Local 26 President Javier Morillo-Alicea says he and other union representatives have taken their complaints to ICE officials in Washington. But he says there’s a disturbing disconnect. “What [the Washington] D.C. ICE [office] tells us has no connection to what local ICE agents do,” Morillo-Alicea contends.  “We are forcing people to the bad actors who profit from the broken immigration system.”

Workers are worried about their livelihoods, their families, whether they will be detained, and the fact that some of their money will not be returned. “When we get paid, they withhold Social Security and Medicare. We pay unemployment and everything in a single paycheck,” Alondra says in the report. (To protect their identities, workers in the report are referred to with pseudonyms or only first names.) She wonders if fired workers will ever see that money.

As the report states,

Immigrant workers are an important part of our labor force. Those who are undocumented, in many cases, entered the workforce when demand was high and have lived in this country for many years, setting down roots and becoming productive members of their communities.

Ripping them from their jobs and families or driving them deeper underground will only hurt the U.S. economy.

Daniel Griswold of the Cato Institute, the libertarian think tank, put it simply while testifying before Congress recently. “We cannot deport our way out of unemployment,” he said.

Watch Video of Fired Chipolte Worker

About the Author: R.M. Arrieta was born and raised in Los Angeles. She has worked at three dailies and two television stations. She currently lives in San Francisco, where she is editor of the Bay Area’s independent community bilingual biweekly El Tecolote. She can be reached at rmarrieta@inthesetimes.com.

The State of Native America: Very Unemployed and Mostly Ignored

Friday, January 14th, 2011

R.M. ArrietaAs the new year begins, it’s as good a time as any to look at a topic almost completely ignored by mainstream media: how Native American people are faring in the U.S. labor market. The economy and its paucity of jobs dominated U.S. headlines throughout 2010, but news media overlooked the particularly difficult experiences of native peoples.

In late November, the nonpartisan think tank Economic Policy Institute released a report looking at unemployment figures among American Indians. According to Algernon Austin of EPI, unemployment in Indian Country is bleak.

For instance, the national unemployment rate among Native people spiked from 7.7 percent in the first half of 2007 to 15.2 percent in the first half of 2010. Whites experienced a 4.1 percent and 9.1 percent unemployment rate respectively, in the same time period. In his brief “Different Race, Different Recession: American Indian Unemployment in 2010,” Austin writes that:

We find some of the largest disparities in employment between American Indians and whites in Alaska, the Northern Plains, and the Southwest.

These are also the regions of the country where the ratio of the Native to non-Native population is among the highest.

The unemployment numbers are different from those released by the Bureau of Indian Affairs Labor Force Report, whose sample and methodology is different than that used by EPI. The BIA bases its numbers on the American Indian and Alaska Native population that lives on or near the reservation and are eligible for BIA-funded services.

This population, however, according to Austin, is only about one-third of the total American Indian and Alaska Native population.

Austin’s report, based on statistics from Current Population Survey (CPS) data, uses the total American Indian and Alaska Native population, including biracial individuals. Here are his research’s key findings:

  • By the first half of 2010, the unemployment rate for Alaska Natives jumped 6.3 percentage points to 21.3%—the highest regional unemployment rate for American Indians.
  • Since the start of the recession, American Indians in the Midwest experienced the greatest increase in unemployment, growing by 10.3 percentage points to 19.3%.
  • By the first half of this year, slightly more than half—51.5%—of American Indians nationally were working, down from 58.3% in the first half of 2007.
  • In the first half of this year, only 44% of American Indians in the Northern Plains were working, the worst employment rate for Native Americans regionally.
  • The employment situation is the worst for American Indians in some of the same regions where it is best for whites: Alaska and the Northern Plains.

This year, President Obama made efforts to work toward building a better relationship with native people, ordering his administration to seek the advice of native people on the best ways that federal programs and policies could serve them.

In 2010, the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration’s Indian and Native American Program awarded $53 million to 178 grantees to provide employment and training services geared toward unemployed, under-employed and low-income Native American adults.

And it awarded an additional $13.8 million in grants to 78 tribes, tribal consortiums, and tribal nonprofit organizations to offer summer employment and training activities for native youth to offer basic and occupational skills training and job placement assistance.

As outlined in the 2010 White House Tribal Nations Conference Progress Report, Obama requested $55 million in his 2011 fiscal year budget for the Indian and Native American Program, which grants funding to tribes and Native American nonprofits to provide employment and training services to unemployed and low-income Native people.

That’s a 4-percent increase over fiscal year 2010. Whether it will be approved or not is another matter, of course.

This article was originally published on Working In These Times.

About The Author: Rose Arrieta was born and raised in Los Angeles. She has worked at three dailies and two television stations. She currently lives in San Francisco, where she is editor of the Bay Area’s independent community bilingual biweekly El Tecolote. She can be reached at rmarrieta@inthesetimes.com.

Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog