Fighting for a Better Life. Luchando por una Vida Mejor

By Sarah Smoot, ICWJ Organizer

Last night the Latino Workers Project, spearheaded by the Workers’ Rights Center (WRC), released its report titled “Luchando por una Vida Mejor / Struggling for a Better Life.”

LWP_Cover_16Attended by about 60 community members and simultaneously interpreted in Spanish and English, the release highlighted findings of the report, brought workers’ stories to the fore, and offered next steps with “¿Ahora, qué? (Now What?)”

Pastor Marcio Sierra Jr. of Lighthouse Church / Iglesia Lighthouse in Madison, opened the event in prayer, praying for safety, security, and God’s blessing for all workers.

FullSizeRender (1)WRC director Patrick Hickey presented some of the key findings of the extensive report. 43% of workers surveyed in the Latino Workers Project had experienced some form of wage theft: By working off the clock, working through deducted break times, not receiving overtime wages, or any of myriad forms of exploitation, they have not been paid for all the hours they worked. 28% of workers surveyed reported workplace discrimination regarding their race and/or national origin. 20% reported work-related injuries and illnesses, and a quarter of those workers did not tell their employer about the injury for fear of losing their job. Without reporting injuries, workers have no access to their rights of Workers Compensation.

Another chilling statistic shared was that following the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), workplace injuries and deaths have gone down in every demographic except Hispanic/Latino. In this community, workplace injuries and deaths have been on the rise.

Armando Ibarra, professor in the UW School for Workers and member of the LWP fact finding delegation, shared the 10 recommendations from the delegation. Their recommendations are informed by the report itself and by their years of experience working with Latinos in Dane County. Many of the delegates also participated in the first Latino Workers Project in 2001 and have a strong grasp on the injustices that have not changed or have worsened over the last 15 years.

A worker shares testimony

A worker shares testimony

Among the recommendations for the community: Of course, to participate in comprehensive immigration reform – a revamping of the system which currently encourages employers to capitalize on the vulnerability of undocumented workers.

Other recommendations can be achieved at the local level: Improving enforcement of labor standards to penalize employers who break the law. In its history the WRC has assisted workers in collecting well over $1 million dollars in unpaid wages, and workers continue to come through their doors with wage theft cases. Virtually nothing is done to discourage employers from continuing to exploit workers. The final and perhaps most important recommendation is that funding be gathered for a Latino organizer to work full-time in Madison, building a grass-roots movement to enact all the recommendations put forth to bring about Latino equity in the workplace and society at large.  More on the report & recommendations.

FullSizeRender (4)To close, Carolina Sarmiento, Assistant Professor in UW Madison’s School of Human Ecology and WRC board member. Asked us “¿Ahora, qué?” Now that we’ve heard all this, now what? We left encouraged to join in the movement of community members against the anti-immigrant legislation currently being raised in Wisconsin; encouraged to join in the Fight For $15 with Corneil White, a Madison fast food worker and leader in Madison’s Fight For $15 movement; and encouraged to continue supporting the Workers’ Rights Center for its unique service in the Madison area and beyond.

No hay otra… There is no other organization like this one, Sarmiento stated, no where else can workers knock on the door saying, “My boss hasn’t paid me, what can we do about it?” and actually get assistance and get the money they earned.

The Workers’ Rights Center is a unique and vital agency in south-central Wisconsin. Join in supporting their work toward justice with all workers.

Learn more about the Latino Workers’ Project.

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