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More than $1.2 million stolen in Houston wages in 2018

By Ileana Najarro, Houston Chronicle. March 1, 2019

Maria Soto, 50, used to work at a taqueria truck and Soto and the owner had agreed $9.00 an hour to work there, but Soto alleges that at the moment of getting paid, the owner of the food truck would not pay her what it had been agreed. Soto later found out the owner of the taqueria would often cheat other workers as well. Friday, March 1, Photo: Marie D. De Jesús, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

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.

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