By Ileana Najarro, Houston Chronicle. March 1, 2019
In December 2017, Maria Soto worked 142 hours at $9 per hour cooking and serving food at a gas station taco truck. In January 2018, her employer only offered her $640, half of what was due.
Workers in Houston like Soto, 50, reported a total of more than $1.2 million in stolen wages last year, according to a new study by the Fe y Justicia Worker Center.
The average amount stolen from each worker was about $3,600, in many cases about a quarter of their annual income.
“Labor abuses are not victimless crimes,” Marianela Acuña Arreaza, executive director of the worker center, said in a statement. “Wage theft means families getting evicted, parents being unable to afford their kids’ medication or their own.”
Workers self-reported their cases to the worker center last year, which then analyzed the data. Most of the employees work as domestic workers, day laborers, and in other low-paying jobs.
The database Fe y Justicia compiled is “long overdue,” according to Linda Morales, organizing coordinator for the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation/AFL-CIO which partners with Fe y Justicia and helped assess the self-reported data. Several workers’ rights organizations know anecdotally of wage theft cases, but the database would better track local ones, Morales said.
Yet Morales said that $1.2 million is a conservative total as many more workers chose not to report a wage theft case, and those who did didn’t ask for all they were owed.