Despite volumes of labor laws written to protect employees, some companies still find ways to exploit their workers. Wage theft is the primary problem; the schemes vary and companies intimidate those who complain.
A local organization called Centre de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (The Center for Workers United in Struggle) provides tools workers need to organize themselves to defend their rights and reclaim unpaid wages.
Brain Payne, a CTUL organizer, said CTUL has helped low-wage workers recover more than $1.2 million in unpaid wages in the last six years. Most of CTUL’s members work in the retail cleaning, restaurant and manufacturing industries.
Payne described several common wage theft scenarios:
- Manufacturing employees arrive for their shift and discover the machines needed to do their jobs are not working. Their boss makes them stay at work, but won’t let them punch in until the machines are fixed hours later. This may happen multiple times per week.
- A dishwasher gets a job at a restaurant. The manager offers to pay him a $250 weekly salary and expects the dishwasher to work 60 hours per week. Before taxes, the dishwasher makes about $4 per hour.
- An overnight cleaning crew works 11 hours per day, seven days per week. The employees get paid hourly. When the janitors reach 40 hours, their boss makes them punch in with a “ghost employee” timecard. The employees get paid for every hour they work, but do not receive required overtime pay.
Quitting not an option
So, why don’t these exploited workers quit and find a new job?
“People are afraid to quit for many reasons,” Payne said. “In most cases they are barely scraping by. They have to feed their kids and buy diapers for their baby. They can’t afford to miss a paycheck while they look for a new job.”
Exploited workers are afraid to complain about unpaid wages. Managers might punish them for their complaints by firing them, giving them undesirable schedules or by moving their work location across town. In some cases, managers have physically assaulted exploited workers.
“Exploitation doesn’t have a color, a race or an age,” Payne said. “These companies find different ways to scare each person.”
CTUL receives a large part of its annual funding from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ collection for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the U.S. bishops’ domestic anti-poverty agency.
The annual nationwide collection supports anti-poverty efforts across the country. Twenty-five percent of collected funds stay in each diocese. The USCCB distributes the rest of the money in the form of grants to community groups working to address the root causes of poverty.
Like CTUL, organizations that receive CCHD funds must mobilize and activate those in need to improve their own communities. The programs encourage solidarity in the fight for justice for the poor and vulnerable.
This year’s CCHD collection will take place at most parishes on Nov. 23 and 24. The theme of this year’s annual collection is: “Defend Human Dignity. Take Poverty Off the Map.”
Category: Local News