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First Wage Theft Complaints Filed Under Houston's New Law

Workers who have been cheated out of their wages by unscrupulous employers in Houston are fighting back now that they have the tools to do so under the city's new wage theft ordinance. The city has received its first official complaints under the new law from some workers who say they were not receiving overtime pay that they are owed.

Via the Houston Chroncle's Lomi Kriel:

“Thirteen workers on Tuesday filed the first complaint under a new Houston ordinance aimed at preventing companies from stealing workers' wages.

“The workers, with the assistance of the nonprofit Faith and Justice Worker Center, filed documents with the city's inspector general alleging that their employer, Bradley Demolition and Construction, refused to pay them overtime. They say the company also failed to provide tax forms.

“Among those filing the complaint were Erik Lopez and his three brothers. They said they often worked 80 hours a week, building highway ramps and trash landfills for various city projects.

“A supervisor at Bradley Demolition ‘would tell me it didn't really suit him to pay me overtime,’ said Lopez, 30, a native of Guerrero state in Mexico, who came to Houston 14 years ago seeking work.”

As is often the case, the company in question has not commented. The Chronicle's report notes that workers did not know they could do anything about what had been stolen from them until they heard about the wage theft ordinance that was passed in November.

The Faith and Justice Workers Center, run by Laura Boston, says there are about 100 wage theft complaints every day throughout the Houston area. That amounts to about $750 million every year, the center said. As Boston wrote on Construction Citizen:

“The ordinance establishes a process housed in the Office of the Inspector General through which employees can bring wage claims forward. Companies with a documented record of wage theft – either final adjudication from a court of competent jurisdiction or a criminal conviction – will be included in a publicly listed database on the City’s website and will be ineligible for city contracts or sub-contracts. Additionally, any company with a criminal conviction of wage theft will be ineligible to receive occupational permits and licenses.

“The legal language of the ordinance was developed as a public policy proposal incorporating the demands and vision developed collectively by low-wage workers employed in various industries that had direct personal experience with wage theft. Members of the Fe y Justicia Worker Center, the organization spearheading the Down with Wage Theft Campaign, prioritized the need to increase real consequences for companies and employers that demonstrated disregard for the dignity of workers and wage and hour laws. The ordinance was then submitted to Mayor Parker and promoted in Houston neighborhoods by constituents in each of the city council districts.”

We will, of course, continue to track the implementation of the new law.

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