Regional
3:30 pm
Wed November 16, 2011

Officials Vow To Prosecute Wage Theft In El Paso

El Paso – Today, State Senator Jos Rodr guez, District Attorney Jaime Esparza, County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal, Sheriff Richard Wiles, Police Chief Greg Allen, Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project, and the Labor Justice Committee announced that they will collaborate in the investigation and prosecution of wage theft cases under the Texas Penal Code.

In certain industries, such as construction, one in every five workers experiences wage theft. Day laborers in particular are significantly affected by this issue with 50 percent having experienced wage theft. The impact of this theft is widespread and has caused many Texans to be unable to meet their families' basic needs.

To deal with this issue, Senator Rodr guez authored Senate Bill 1024, which overwhelmingly passed the Legislature and was signed into law by the Governor this past May. The new law addresses incidents of wage theft by making it easier for law enforcement to prosecute employers who willfully fail to pay workers for all of the work that they have done. The new statutory provisions will improve enforcement of wage theft violations and take an important step forward in protecting Texas workers.

The new law took effect on September 1st. After several months of discussion on how to best put into practice these new provisions, local law enforcement and prosecutors are ready to begin investigating and prosecuting employers who fail to follow the law.

"By agreeing to investigate and prosecute employers under the Texas Penal Code, our local law enforcement will ensure that thousands of hardworking El Pasoans receive their promised pay. This also ensures that employers will be held liable if they willfully disregard the law by not paying their workers," said Senator Rodr guez.

District Attorney Jaime Esparza said, "Fraud and theft in the workplace is a crime and it undermines legitimate business practices. The District Attorney's Office looks forward to working with investigators to successfully prosecute these cases."

"This new law allows us to go after persons in our community who act with impunity and rob wages from our workers every day. It will send a clear message that intentionally failing to pay wages has serious consequences," said Sheriff Wiles.

A recent study conducted by Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project, the Border Network for Human Rights, the Labor Justice Committee, Dr. Cristina Morales, and Eric Murillo underscores the prevalence of wage theft in the El Paso region. The report shows that one in every five low-wage workers did not receive minimum wage, and one in every eight workers was a victim of wage theft.

During the last two years, Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project has received complaints from El Paso workers accounting for nearly $1 million in unpaid wages.

Lidia Cruz of the Labor Justice Committee, which is a local advocacy organization focused on wage theft, says that their organization is ready to work with law enforcement. "Our members already have several cases in which employers repeatedly rob workers of their wages. We look forward to bringing these cases to detectives and pursuing criminal sanctions."

WAGE THEFT RESOURCES

If you think you've been a victim of wage theft or are involved in a wage dispute, please contact one of the following agencies:

Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project
1317 E. Rio Grande Ave.
El Paso, Texas 79902
(915) 532-3799 x10
Fax: (915) 532-8892

Labor Justice Committee
1317 E. Rio Grande Avenue
El Paso, Texas 79902
(915) 532-3799 x17
Fax: (915) 532-8892

Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid
1331 E. Texas Avenue
El Paso, Texas 79901
(915) 585-5100
Fax: (915) 533-4108

Border Network for Human Rights
2115 N. Piedras Avenue
El Paso, Texas 79930
(915) 577-0724
Fax: (915) 577-0370