ALAMO – Worker-rights groups around the state are shining a collective spotlight this week on the problem of wage theft, confronting businesses which have a history of shortchanging vulnerable employees. The groups are encouraging workers to report abuse and urging officials to enforce new labor laws.
Hector Guzman Lopez is an organizer with Fuerza del Valle - the Forces of the Valley Workers' Center - which holds weekly trainings for Rio Grande Valley residents dealing with wage theft.
"When a boss doesn't pay a worker minimum wage, or workers don't get paid their overtime, or they don't get paid at all, those are the three basic forms of wage theft. We are having all these actions to encourage workers to organize and recoup what they've worked for."
One of the goals of the "Week of Action," Guzman says, is to raise awareness among workers that they are protected if they report wage theft, regardless of their immigration status. Too often, he says, employers take advantage of employee fears. For example, some risk losing temporary work permits if they lose their jobs.
A new Texas law closes a loophole that allowed employers to avoid wage-theft prosecution if they made at least partial payments to workers. Guzman and others are pressing prosecutors and police to make enforcement of the new state law a priority.
"You have to pay everything you owe to somebody. You can't just pay a small amount and then say you have no intent of theft. We are going to take it very seriously, and we want police departments to also take it seriously like they should."
Studies show that in some industries, such as construction, as many as one in five workers have experienced wage theft. It's estimated that half of all day laborers have been victims.
Various actions and news conferences this week in Austin, El Paso, Houston and the Valley are listed on the website of the Build a Better Texas workers' coalition, buildtexas.org.