Campaign to End Wage Theft
Our Campaign to End Wage Theft seeks to end the practice of wage theft, which has reached epidemic levels and taken increasingly various forms in our current economic recession. Since 2006 our campaign has recovered over $1 million in unpaid wages through direct action taken against employers. Our cases range from a single worker to a prolonged campaign with 193 workers who were fired without warning from the Colibri Factory, resulting in 4 weeks of unpaid wages for each worker. We have represented over 60 individual wage claims of between $100 and $30,000, most of which would otherwise go unenforced by the RI Office of the Attorney General, which has a track record of neglecting “small” cases (though the impact of these cases on workers' lives is never small).
We hold twice-monthly Wage Theft Clinics in order to educate members about direct action and encourage the formation of a collective identity around the issue of wage theft. The Clinics are run by volunteer leaders who work 1-on-1 with community members. Hundreds of workers participate in these clinics every year.
With the support of the Immigrant Worker Center Collaborative (IWCC), a coalition of 10 immigrant worker centers in MA and RI (Fuerza Laboral is the sole RI representative), Fuerza recently launched a regional campaign to end wage theft through sub-contracting. Through the IWCC, we are partnering with the National Staffing Workers Alliance (NSWA) and the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA) to develop a supply-chain approach that will serve as a national model for targeting sub-contracting as a screen for wage theft. These efforts will close loopholes that enable unscrupulous employers to misclassify employees as contractors, thus avoiding responsibility for the payment of wages, overtime, or benefits.
- After nearly five years of fighting for better legislative protections against wage theft at the state level, we were successful in passing statewide legislation that took effect on January 1, 2013 that better prevents wage theft and punishes violators. Under the new legislation, workers now have the right to take wage theft cases to court in RI. Employers who do not pay wages may be liable for paying up to double damages to workers as well as 12% interest and attorney fees. Fuerza Laboral has received feedback from the RI Department of Labor and Training that, as a result of the new legislation, a significantly higher percentage of employers now pay the wages they owe to workers immediately upon receipt of a penalty letter in order to avoid paying extra damages. This victory was the result of five years of organizing rallies, bringing workers' testimonies directly to the State House, holding community forums, organizing direct actions against unscrupulous employers, meeting with the RI Department of Labor & Training (DLT) and the RI Office of the Attorney General to hold them accountable, and forging a groundbreaking partnership with the RI Building Trades.
- Over 100 people participated in our public meeting with the Regional Deputy Director and two investigators from U.S. Dept. of Labor, "Fuerza Laboral y the U.S. Labor Department: Presenting Solutions to Labor Abuse" in September, 2010. Participants educated government officials about labor abuses in Rhode Island and the importance of legislation to help the workers. This meeting resulted in commitments by decision-makers to help end wage theft by changing state and city policies.
- Over 50 people participated in our March, 2012 Community Forum on Wage Theft, organized to educate decision-makers about the issue of wage theft through the testimonies of our members. In June of 2012, anti-wage theft legislation was finally passed.
Justice for Colibri Workers: From 2009 to 2011 we worked with the 280 workers who were shut out of the Colibri jewelry factory without a day's notice, in violation of the Federal WARN Act. The three year organizing campaign included direct actions, civil disobedience, and resulted in a federal class action lawsuit, in which the litigation involving the former employees of The Colibri Group was resolved—a major victory for workers! Other Colibri Workers for Rights and Justice victories included winning state legislation that uses Federal stimulus funds to pay 65% of the health insurance costs for workers who lose their jobs through plant closings; winning unanimous passage of resolutions supporting the Colibri Workers in both the Providence City Council and the RI House of Representatives; and introducing RI WARN Act legislation with teeth to protect workers' rights in a plant closing, unlike the Federal version.
2003: In our first legislative victory, when Fuerza Laboral was known as the United Workers Committee, we organized temporary employment agency workers to fight back against the abuses of temp agencies that were charging exorbitant prices for transportation to and from work. The workers succeeded in passing legislation that limited temp agency abuses by mandating that agencies could not charge more for transportation than public transportation.