Labor abuses like this are called wage theft. Please, reach out for help, people are willing to help us no matter our immigration status. We also have rights here in this country, and I ask you not to remain silent, we have rights!
Immigrants are vital to New Mexico’s economy as small business owners, tax-payers, consumers, and in the workforce. Wage theft is a severe problem in New Mexico and can destroy the financial solvency of working families. Wage theft is the illegal practice of not paying workers for all of their work, including violating minimum wage laws, not paying overtime, and forcing people to work off the clock. At El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos, our Wage Theft Warriors are low-wage New Mexican workers, each with unique and traumatic stories of hardship wrought by wage theft, but with a common desire to seek justice and through courage and resilience to fight to recover their hard-earned lost wages and support other victims along the way.
Candelaria is a working immigrant, mother, and victim of wage theft. She found out about El CENTRO after she explained her case to a friend who advised her to seek help there. Candelaria worked over eight years at a childcare center in ABQ. Throughout this time, she was required to take child development classes, while meeting employment terms, both of which she completed before deciding to resign. After Candelaria gave her two weeks notice, her former employer told her that she had to pay for the classes she had taken. When she went to pick up her last check, they asked her to sign a paper in English where she agreed to these illegal deductions. She felt blindsided by this experience. Rather than signing, Candelaria walked out of the building, not sure what she would do, but she knew this wasn’t right. Her indignation was stoked further when she finally received her check and saw the amount was ZERO, due to her former employer’s unlawful deduction of the costs of classes. She describes the consequences that wage theft had in her family “This affected my family emotionally; we felt bad because my former employers were mistreating me.”
By the time Candelaria attended a workers’ orientation, she had already filed a claim with the Department of Workforce Solution (DWS) but was seeking a better understanding of her rights and options. There, she met other workers and heard their stories, learning that illegal deductions are one form of wage theft. Other workers that night shared stories of hours not paid, both terms of straight and overtime, as well as the many unsuccessful pleas to employers and frustrations and complications from losing earned pay. In preparation for her hearing at DWS, El CENTRO referred her to the Center on Law and Poverty, a non-profit that advances policies to improve workers lives. Ultimately, she prevailed and was awarded the hours she had worked
She is grateful for the community she found at El CENTRO. The experience, she recounts, was empowering and illuminating and encourages other workers to come out to light with their cases of wage theft. “I want to tell other workers that there are always programs to help and I suggest that they seek help, labor abuses like this are called wage theft. Please, reach out for help, people are willing to help us no matter our immigration status. We also have rights here in this country, and I ask you not to remain silent, we have rights!”