In the paper version of Unfair Park this week, we write about a group of immigrant workers who were stiffed for two weeks of construction work and left stranded and broke in Alabama. Attorney Alvino Guajardo, who filed a lawsuit against the contractor who hired the 10 men, intends to put a stop to scofflaw employers taking off with the checks. He has his eye on Austin: For several years, police there have partnered with immigrant advocates to pursue employers who don’t pay.
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While most cities treat unpaid wages as a civil matter, in Austin workers are encouraged to file complaints and police can pursue the cases as “theft of service,” a charge commonly filed when a customer walks out on a restaurant check. They can also file a complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission.
Guajardo and a spokesman for the Mexican Consulate say claims of unpaid wages are rampant and growing. It makes sense when you consider that Dallas has a newer and less established Latino immigrant population than South Texas, and that newly arrived, undocumented immigrants are most likely to be cheated out of wages.
Guajardo says that in the last six months, he’s received at least 50 complaints similar to those lodged by the 10 workers left in Alabama. “This is just getting out of hand,” he tells Unfair Park. “These cases aren’t lucrative for attorneys, but these guys still need help.”
Often, workers are owed less than $1,000 and are referred to small claims courts, but he says he has one client who is suing an employer for $20,000. Most cities are content to leave unpaid wages to the civil arena, but supporters of Austin’s strategy argue that a week’s worth of lost wages is just as egregious as an unpaid dinner tab. What a concept. We’ll see if Guajardo can convince Dallasites of that. --Megan Feldman