6/30/09 WWLTV – Day Laborers, Huge Task in Region for Wage Theft, Ask Council for Help
June 30, 2009
Day Laborers, Huge Task in Region for Wage Theft, Ask Council for Help
Maya Rodriguez, WWLTV
NEW ORLEANS – Presenting a united front, dozens of day laborers entered the New Orleans City Council chambers, looking for a sympathetic ear on the issue of wage theft.
Similar stories were repeated at the council hearing. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, New Orleans has the highest incidence of wage theft in the Southern region. Of those surveyed by the center, a whopping 80 percent of the workers said they were victims of wage theft.
“Soon after the hurricane, basically immediately, we started seeing this serious situation,” said Martin Gutierrez of Catholic Charities.
The issue is complicated by the fact that most of the day laborers affected are undocumented workers. Many of them said they were intimidated into keeping quiet under threat of deportation.
“It’s not a question about being legal or illegal,” Falcon said. “It’s about being a human being, the mistreatment, the discrimination, the racism. It shouldn’t exist. We are being robbed – and simply put, there is no protection for us.”
There are also tax issues involved in the wage theft situation.
“No pay roll taxes, no social security, no federal taxes,” said Herbert Santos, with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. “How can our contractors compete against these contractors?”
Another problem involves loopholes in the law. Attorneys with the Loyola Law Clinic told council members that federal statutes don’t cover the majority of wage theft cases. In addition, the Louisiana Supreme Court has ruled state law does not apply to these types of cases. Council President Arnie Fielkow said there needs to be a change.
“I think, from a country standpoint, we need to have a national reform policy on immigration. I think all would agree on that. But I also feel right now very strongly, those that are here, those that are working need to be treated with respect and dignity,” Fielkow said. “It’s terribly wrong to discriminate, to hurt those that have come to our community to try and help rebuild, who have put in an honest days work and are not getting paid.”
“We came to work,” said worker Josue Diaz. “We came to help with the reconstruction and to help ourselves as well. We simply came to work. That’s what we want.”
Council President Fielkow said he hopes to introduce an ordinance to the City Council in August, which would make wage theft a crime in the city if New Orleans.