Immigration, Community Groups Form Coalition to Organize Workers

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150 people gathered at First Congregational Church on Saturday, May 10 to launch a city-wide campaign to organize low-wage workers and their families, community leaders, youth and students, and faith leaders to respond to the growing problem of wage theft in Long Beach. The campaign to end wage theft is being led by a coalition of community groups whose members are directly affected by the issue like the Filipino Migrant Center, Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition, Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs, and Centro Shalom.

Workers from the restaurant, trucking and healthcare industry provided testimony describing the particular trends and forms of wage theft in their respective workplaces and the negative impact this has on the health and economic livelihoods of their families.

Dennis, a Long Beach port truck driver spoke about the misclassification of truck drivers as “independent contractors” by port trucking companies that are intended to place the burden of high costs on the drivers, leaving them with a paycheck well below minimum to put food on the table and pay their monthly rent. He strongly urged the community to rally behind all workers struggling to combat wage theft. “If a regular person commits a crime, they go to jail, but companies can just change their name and are no longer liable. But the people they hurt, their families remain the same. This has to change. We have to speak up. Every single one of us. All of us are in the same situation.”

A diverse panel of speakers enriched the dialogue around the issue and provided valuable insight about the various challenges presently facing workers in their attempts to recover stolen wages despite strong state labor laws and the opportunities to transform work environments when community members unite and organize around values of respect and justice.

Rosemarie Molina from the Los Angeles Wage Theft Coalition and the Clean Carwash Campaign placed the problem into perspective when she gave an alarming report revealing the depth of wage theft throughout Los Angeles County. She says, “Wage theft spans across 26 industries and every single week, $26 million is lose in wage theft.”

Alicia Morales, an undocumented young student from Cal State Long Beach shared her personal experience working as a janitor cleaning restaurants in order to help supplement her family’s income and the devastating impacts wage theft has had on her ability to finance her college education. “I want to rally other young people to work with our families and communities to solve these problems”, she says.

Other panel speakers included: Pastor Shelton Ervin from Church One in North Long Beach and Attorney Jay Shin from Wage Justice Center in Los Angeles.

7th District Councilmember-elect Roberto Uranga was present at the launching to express his strong support for the campaign and said he stands on the side of hard-working families in the city.

Young students and members of the Filipino Sama Sama Club at Cabrillo Highschool surprised the attendees with a large mural they painted as an act of solidarity, showing a community united against wage theft. All of the community members in attendance showed this very unity when they stood together to pin their bright-colored signed pledge cards onto the wall to demonstrate the commitment they are making to ending wage theft.

The coalition is exploring on working with city council members to develop a city ordinance as one strategy to actively address wage theft at the local level, and learning from other similar successful measures in other cities across California.

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