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DC Day laborers demand pay and language assistance from the Office of Wage and Hour

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Issues were brough up demonstrating how the Office of Wage and Hour makes it almost impossible for day laborers to fight wage theft (in this author's opinion, it's another tragic example of institutionalized racism). Filing claims currently requires an employer's full name and home address, something most day laborers never get. A photo ID is required to even get into the office, again something many day laborers do not have. Access to interpreters is basically non-existent, and if a laborer goes in without their own, they can rarely even get through the door (which an organizer from DC Employment Justice Center pointed out is a violation of DC language access statutes). Then, if laborers are able to get in and file a claim, nothing happens. The best case is that there's enough info to subpoena the employer in for a fact-finding hearing, and almost every time they simply refuse to show and the case is dropped. Even if they do show, nothing is done. One employer outright admitted to owing laborers in excess of $1000, then left and nothing further was pursued. Laborers reported getting a letter, in English, years later informing them that the statute of limitations was running out on their claim despite providing evidence of their bad employer.

Two day laborers spoke of a job with Granite Development, where they are both owed $2400 each. They filed a claim, including the home address and all the information, and were told they would get a call back from the Office of Wage and Hour. That call never came. They called back themselves, and were told the Office was still investigating, and were not told more information was needed. Then, they recieved a letter in English telling them they did not provide enough information, that the statute of limitations had expired, and they were told to take their claim to small claims court. As one of the laborer's put it, "they like the work we do, and they show their gratitude by not paying us for it."

Several basic demands were presented to the City Council for changes within DOES and the Office of Wage and Hour both by the Worker's Center Coalition and the Union de Trabajadores:

1. The Office must improve the investigation policies on bad employers. Currently, worker's must provide a home address, when many day laborers cannot even get the address they worked at. It must be changed so that the Office can track employers down by license plates and phone numbers, which is usually all the laborers can get. This should include information sharing with other agencies, such as the DMV.

2. The Office must keep in regular contact with laborers, updating them on the status of their claims, and requesting any further information needed.

3. The Office must improve access to immigrant and non-English speaking peoples, provide and train interpreters in accordance with DC law, and rescind the requirement for photo ID.

4. The Office must fight to regain lost wages, which it currently does not do.

5. The Office must forward information on bad employers to the Attorney General for prosecution and punishment.

Complete article:

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