New Mexico employers steal wages from at least one in four Mexican immigrant workers according to a new study released on Thursday by Somos Un Pueblo Unido and UNM Professor of Political Science and Sociology Andrew Schrank. The study "Mexican Immigrants and Wage Theft in New Mexico," conducted by Dr. Schrank and doctoral student Jessica Garrick from UNM's Department of Sociology, documents the impact of wage theft and other workplace abuses on immigrant workers who live n New Mexico. To download report, click here.
Wage theft is defined by the illegal underpayment or nonpayment of wages. It occurs when employers do not pay overtime, require employees to work off the clock, pay less than the local minimum wage, or deny last paychecks. In an in depth survey of 210 Mexican immigrants taken in the fall of 2012, the researchers found that wage theft is not limited to undocumented immigrants. While the percentage of undocumented Mexican immigrants who said their wages had been stolen by employers was particularly high at 29%, 21% of workers who were legally authorized to work in the US acknowledged being victims of wage theft as well. The report also indicates that employers who steal wages are more likely to engage in other workplace abuses.
"Workplace violations tend to cluster. Workers who suffer wage theft are also more likely to suffer verbal and physical abuse, forced overtime, denial of rest periods, and the like," said Professor Shrank, "This suggests that abuse isn't randomly distributed across the labor market but is perpetrated systematically by employers who are "bad apples." Given the prevalence of these abuses, however, it's safe to conclude that there are a lot of bad apples out there."
"One important takeaway is that the workers who experience wage theft are an incredibly diverse group," said Jessica Garrick, doctoral student at University of Michigan who co-authored the report while finishing her Masters of Sociology at UNM. "Other similar surveys across the country focused on groups of immigrants that were more uniform, such as recently-arrived undocumented construction workers in New Orleans who were mostly male. The immigrants in our survey have been in both the state and the US for longer and they are more likely to be here with their spouses and children. They also have slightly higher education levels, speak varying levels of English, and work in many different occupations and industries. And all of these groups within our samples experienced wage theft and employer abuse at fairly high rates. Clearly, immigrant workers of all stripes in New Mexico are harmed by these crimes: they are not being paid their legally due wages and are subject to substandard working conditions more broadly."
One of the more concerning findings showed that wage theft victims rarely report the crime or attempt to recover their wages. Only 12% of self-reported wage theft victims reported the crime to tan authority, and only four of those who did when to a government agency. Of those four, only one resulted in an actual wage claim being filed. When asked why they did not report the crime or attempt to recover stolen wages, victims cited fear of retaliation, lack of knowledge, and concerns about the bureaucracy.
Gabriela Guzmán, staff attorney at Somos Un Pueblo Unido's newly opened Worker Center said "Wage theft not only further impoverishes low-income families, it hurts our local economies and puts businesses that are following the rules at a disadvantage. This study shows that the complaint procedures that exist for victims of wage theft are simply not working. Our state needs to take this problem seriously and prioritize enforcement."
"My husband who worked at Squeaky Clean Car Wash in Santa Fe was required to work off the clock, even after the company was recently required to change its policy by the Department of Workforce Solutions." said Fernanda Rangel, a resident of Santa Fe for six years and a victim of wage theft herself. "And when I recently worked at Albertson's to clean the store overnight with a friend, they refused to pay me what they owed me. We didn't know that we could file a claim until we met members of Somos' Worker Center who had successfully recuperated their wages. It's hard enough to get by in this economy, it's shameful that employers would steal money from our families and our children."
Representative Felipe Archuleta (D-Doña Ana) who recently sponsored a bill to expedite wage theft cases in Magistrate and District court and who worked as a Labor Law Administrator for twenty years said, "This isn't something that just affects workers. Whole families are victimized. There is a lot to be done at the legislative level and the administrative level to make sure that employers are not empowered to commit this crime again and again.