Houstonians Expose Impacts of Wage Theft on Victims and Urge City Council to Act
Responsible Business Owners and Working Families Urge Council Support and Action to Bring Wage Theft Down
As Houston city council members shift into campaign mode to convince voters to re-elect them on November 5, thousands of Houstonians are urging them to close unfinished business when it comes to wage theft. Last week, faith and business industry leaders along with working families and employees of city subcontractors with cases of wage theft all gathered together in front of City Hall with a clear message: pass the Anti-Wage Theft Ordinance now! Following that show of support for the ordinance, Mayor Annise Parker has since stated that she will put the proposed ordinance on the Full Council Agenda for vote on November 13th.
On October 15, supporters of the ordinance gathered with posters profiling two local families affected by wage theft. The group heard from speakers including Reverend Ron Lister, Reverend John Griffin, Sister Ceil Roeger, and Joe Marcinkowski. Others performed a satire aimed at raising awareness of the real-life consequences working families have faced when employers ran away on payday without paying them. Although these criminal employers didn't pay their workers, they continue to qualify for city contracts. “My father worked so hard but his employer didn’t pay him more than $2000 dollars that was owed in wages. My family was not able to pay rent, utilities, and to fulfill our basic needs including my college tuition while he was a victim of wage theft,” said Adalinda Guajardo.
Guajardo, a member of Fe Y Justicia Worker Center (formerly known as the Houston Interfaith Worker Justice Center), is not alone in her push for the ordinance. Durrel Douglas, Texas State Director of Working America commented: “We've gone door-to-door talking to thousands of Houstonians collecting over 1,000 handwritten letters with one message: City Council needs to act now and stop allowing a few businesses to take advantage of workers. We're calling on City Council to listen to the people and not make back room deals with lobbyists and special interest groups.”
In the Houston area alone, more than 100 wage and hour violations occur every single week, affecting workers employed in multiple industries. A recent report estimates that more than $753 million in wages are illegally withheld from low-wage workers in the Houston area each year.
Companies that play by the rules are being strangled by competitors who are simply breaking the law. Firms that steal wages have a competitive advantage because they're cheating in every way possible,” said Stan Marek, CEO of Marek Brothers Systems, a specialty subcontractor that's been in business for 75 years. “It used to be that if you ran your business honestly and treated your workers right you could do well, but all that has changed. We can do better and we must.”
Laurie Johnson, the Houston host for All Things Considered on KUHF NPR for Houston, explained in her 1½ minute radio report how the ordinance would work: “Any employer convicted of, or assessed an administrative penalty for, wage theft would be ineligible for city contracts. Furthermore, the city could refuse to grant any necessary permits and operating licenses to that company for two years following that conviction.”
Let's make sure our representatives keep their promises and let council members know we expect a unanimous vote in favor of the proposed ordinance! Send an email or letter to council members and urge their support.