Dozens of workers have not received their money for months and years as a result of a legal complaint for wage theft.

Some 45,000 seamstresses in Los Angeles have been waiting for years for their working conditions to improve and for their wages to be fair, while that happens, at least 400 have filed a formal complaint of wage theft at the California Labor Commission.

Many of the workers who have filed a complaint still do not receive their payments despite having won their lawsuit months and even years ago, The opinion He talked with three workers who still do not receive the money that by right belongs to them.

One of them is a 70-year-old man whom we will call Jesus because he asked for his identity to be protected.

Jesus and Ricardo prefer to hide their identity.

This man of Mexican origin filed a complaint with the California Labor Commission two years ago, and about 8 months ago, the labor complaint was resolved in his favor for a sum of $ 96,000, for all the years he had been the victim of wage theft .

“I worked 18 years with a Korean woman, I went in at seven in the morning and left at six in the afternoon and on Saturdays I left at one, but I didn't pay the minimum, I paid cheap,” said Jesus, who has been six months unemployed.

“In 2018, it closed, so I went to the Labor Commission to make a low-wage demand and they did it to me; so this August that happened we went to make the signatures so that they gave us the money, but until now we don't know when they will give it to us ”.

Together with Jesus, a man whom we will call Ricardo and who prefers anonymity, he also filed a complaint with the same office.

Ricardo's case was also resolved in his favor and he is waiting for a remuneration of $ 75,000, money that still does not cause him illusion, because he still does not know when he will receive it.

"There are many plans, but if you don't have the money, the plans are of no use," said Ricardo, who has been working in the industry for 27 years.

Paulina MIguel has been waiting for her money for five years.

“It is a ghost profession, in the world it is not known that it exists… All these years we have deprived ourselves of being with my children when they were growing up. I worked sometimes until Sunday, I could not take them even to McDonald’s, because when they are children that’s what they ask for, ”the 48-year-old said.

Paulina Miguel, a 25-year-old Guatemalan, is another worker who has been waiting for her money for several years.

“I have a complaint about salary that went directly to the state fund, I've been waiting for five years. It's $ 2,000 of a year of work, (we) reached an agreement with the employer, because the company declared bankruptcy, ”said the young woman.

And the $ 16 million?

Last year the state of California allocated $ 16 million to the state fund to return the money to the affected seamstresses, but many still do not receive their share.

“We organize. Paulina was one of the people who went with us to Sacramento to advocate with the representatives so that, as a temporary solution, the money needed to eliminate the waiting list was about 400 seamstresses, ”said the organizer of the Sewing Workers Center, Daisy González

“There were about 400 seamstresses who had won their case. They had lived wage theft for years and had not seen a penny of the case they had opened. Some already received what they were waiting for, but not all, ”he added.

“We are making that claim because they did not pay me what it was… And when I am going to ask the Labor Commission, they tell me:‘ Well, we do not know when, wait ’,” Jesus says very indignantly.

Alex Sánchez, organizer of the Center for Sewing Workers, explained that the state made an estimate of $ 16 million to pay the 400 seamstresses and since last year that money is in the state fund, but the seamstresses have not yet Received no money.

“When – the workers – go to the commission to ask‘ when they will pay me ’, the commission says‘ we don’t know, it can be one to five years, we don’t have the right people to cut the checks, ’” Sánchez explained.

The Opinion sent an email to Juan Pérez of the State Labor Commission to know about the seamstress checks, but so far they have not answered.

How to file a complaint

The workers recognize that it is important that the whole union join so that they can be heard and their working conditions change.

“They don't take us into account because the authorities don't realize how many seamstresses we really are, those of us in poor condition. So, if they (the other seamstresses) don't support us, we can't do it, ”said Mercedes Cortes, who has been campaigning for the rights of seamstresses for two years.

Cortes received two years ago, $ 7,000 after having suffered wage theft for several years.

"I did not win the fair, but we reached an agreement, they paid me $ 7,000 as in November 2017," said the woman who asks everyone to raise their voices.

Alex Sánchez explained that to make a complaint, people have to go to the Labor Commission and there they will be asked for check stubs, company name and other things, then they do an investigation.

“If the company is still open they will try to negotiate to reach an agreement; the problem is that if -the workers- go without representation they can offer them something, but sometimes that does not benefit the seamstress, ”he said. "It's not that they are giving you free money, it's your job."

The Center for Sewing Workers reported that any worker can come to the California Labor Commission to file a complaint without having to have a lawyer or, even if their payments have been made in cash.

Harassment and other abuses

Many seamstresses suffer different types of abuse in their jobs, unfortunately many times they choose to shut up, for fear of losing their jobs.

Paulina said she suffered sexual harassment five years ago in one of the factories where she worked.

“I had a problem with the manager and the employer did not believe me. When I went to work he gave me work, thread and everything I needed to work, but when he was going to grab the work (finished) he put his hand and touched my legs, ”said the 25-year-old girl.

“The first time I told him why he was doing it and he told me it was an accident; There was a second time and the third time I went to talk to the Korean (factory owner). She caught his attention, but afterwards, he didn't give me work anymore as he always did. ”

Paulina continued: “I and my family decided not to report (to the police). My parents told me that if I sued him with the police, the ones who were going to suffer were his children, they told me that the ones who were going to suffer the consequences were the children and that made me react, so I didn't put anything in legal".

However, her good will had no effect, and then she suffered the consequences. "Then he told me there was no work, and I was resting," Paulina added.

Mercedes also told an episode in which a superior made an indecent proposal.

"Once a Korean told me when I was going to make the check: 'if you let yourself touch my leg I put you more' and I said, 'no, pay me what you owe me nothing else', I left and I didn't come back," remember.

At the Center of Sewing Workers they also offer advice for this type of case.

“We have partnered with a non-profit organization of lawyers; they help open a case of sexual harassment (or other abuses) and represent the workers who have faced such cases, ”González said.

Sanchez took a moment to call on the community and support this vulnerable sector.

“Sometimes we don't think about what happens in the sewing industry, sometimes we focus on the prices we pay and how cheap we can buy, but we don't think about what it is costing, or the cost human of the workers, ”said Sánchez. "Nothing is cheap in this world just for giving it cheap, someone is paying the price and the price is being paid by the seamstresses."


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