Durham Immigrant Workers Win Back Thousands in Unpaid Wages
Wednesday, January 8, 2020
DURHAM, N.C. -- A group of largely undocumented immigrant workers in the Triangle has successfully pressured a local employer to compensate the workers for unpaid wages. Workers'-rights advocates say the win highlights the state Department of Labor's unwillingness to investigate wage-theft claims involving immigrants, especially when the work was agreed upon by verbal contract.
Andrew Willis Garcés, director of the group Siembra North Carolina, said the workers were hired to clean up construction sites but never received payment. He said the practice is more common than many people think.
"They often feel very intimidated by the employer," he said, "and the employer often says, you know, 'If you complain, if you do anything, I'll call ICE,' which is illegal."
Twenty former employees of the Durham construction cleanup company Homehitters Inc. received more than $13,000 for work they did last February and March.
A 2017 report estimated that more than $300 million in wages are unpaid each year to North Carolina workers. Garcés said cities across the country have begun to indict employers who steal wages. Last year, he said, Colorado and Minnesota passed new laws reclassifying wage theft as a felony, subject to criminal penalties. Garcés said that isn't the case in North Carolina.
"The North Carolina Department of Labor is, compared to other departments of labor, much less willing to sue employers and to go after them, and to really take seriously the complaints filed by immigrant workers," he said.
Despite threats, intimidation and the national climate of hostility toward immigrants, Garcés said, undocumented workers in the state are standing up for their rights.
"I think it's both a story about the courage that immigrant workers have," he said. "That story is not out there very much; we mostly see immigrant workers as being afraid, as opposed to very courageous."
The victory comes two months after a group of Greensboro immigrants working as cleaners successfully won repayment of wages stolen last summer.
The 2017 report is online at epi.org.
get more stories like this via email
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Arkansans ages 16 to 26 who are or have been in the foster-care system now are eligible for one-time payments of at least $750…
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Jessica Molina of Perrysburg says she was inspired as a child by the spirit of activism, as she watched her parents participate in …
HARRISBURG, Pa. - U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., wants to bring back the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public-works program from the 1930s that created …
Health and Wellness
CHICAGO - Overdose deaths in Illinois rose by more than a quarter from 2019 to 2020, and medical experts are warning that pills not prescribed by a …
Health and Wellness
MINNEAPOLIS - As COVID cases trend upward again, public-health experts are setting the record straight on certain storylines about new infections…
APPLETON, Wis. - The pandemic paused many facets of life, and a new report says wellness checkups for children were among them. With school resuming …
ALBANY, N.Y. - A ballot measure could give New York residents the constitutional right to a healthy environment, and on Tuesday a group of state …
SALEM, Ore. - Young people of color are locked up at disproportionately high rates compared with their white peers, despite recent signs the gap is …