Group battles labor exploitation in New Mexico
Tucson, Arizona, Nov 16 (EFE)- The organization Somos Un Pueblo Unido has launched a campaign to encourage immigrant workers in New Mexico to denounce abuses at their jobs or receiving pay below the minimum wage without regard for their immigration status.
"We're seeing many cases of workers where they're robbing them of their salaries," Alma Castro, a volunteer organizer with Somos Un Pueblo Unido, told Efe.
She said that in some cases the workers are not even being paid the minimum wage.
"They're taking advantage of ... the simple fact that we're Latinos and we're a vulnerable community, seeing the opportunity to rob our families," said Castro in a telephone interview from Santa Fe.
This is not only stealing from the worker or his family, but from the entire community, because the money that is not being received cannot be spent on the local level, she says.
The "Patron que no paga por ley es ladron" (A boss who doesn't pay is a thief) campaign is designed to send the message that immigrant workers must not stand for this type of abuse and have to seek help without regard for their immigration status.
"We're trying to organize ourselves so that these types of labor abuses stop, but we need the help of the government of the city of Santa Fe and the state," the activist emphasized.
Several affected workers complained at a press conference about the lack of action on the part of the authorities to investigate and resolve complaints related to violations of the minimum wage regulations.
One of them is Honduran immigrant Manuel Antonio Rodriguez, who along with other workers filed a legal complaint against Chinese restaurant China Star.
"For 2 1/2 years they stole half my work time," the 24-year-old cook told Efe.
He said that a group of workers at the restaurant decided not to put up with the abuse any longer and filed a complaint in January.
"The Labor Department in New Mexico didn't do anything for six months. The judge who dealt with us didn't resolve anything for us and afterwards the business closed and declared bankruptcy," he said.
"Before the lawsuit, we worked between 11 and 12 hours, but they paid us 5 per hour," said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez wound up working up to 64 hours a week, but only received pay equivalent to 36 hours. He calculates that the company owes him more than 59,000.
He said he is frustrated by the way in which the New Mexico Labor Department responded to his case, since it took a long time to investigate and act on it.
"The state of New Mexico should define the way in which this type of case is investigated. We have complaints that take a lot of time to get action on," Castro emphasized. EFE
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