Pinoys begin fight against wage theft in Long Beach

by Steve Angeles, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

Posted at May 12 2014 06:42 PM | Updated as of May 13 2014 02:42 AM

LONG BEACH - Filipino activists are gearing up for a new battle, this time in the workplace, where many Filipinos from home health to the hospitality industry lose as much as tens of thousands of dollars a year due to wage theft.

Charito is one of those who experienced wage theft. She was not paid for several days worth of work as a caregiver, when she first came to the US in 2010.

"Parang I feel I don't have the right to complain because I'm new in America. I came here 2010 so instead of complaining so I just got out of that place," she said.

"I've experience nabigigayan ako ng bouncing checks. Instead of magka-kita, eh nag-spend ako sa banko ng $27. I cannot complain about it kahit na punta ko ilan beses ng isang agency," she added.

Filipinos are now leading the charge for stricter wage theft laws in the city of Long Beach.

While wage theft hits dozens of industries and thousands of workers through unpaid work time, missed breaks, bounced checks, unpaid overtime, and below minimum wage salaries, legal experts say the complaint process is simple, by filing with the Labor Commission.

"Workers can go through a legal proceeding where they only have to appear to a government agency only twice unlike if they went through the courts and it usually take a year or less," Atty Jay Shin of the Wage Justice Center said.

However, Shin added that collecting funds is the hard part, as the payments are not strictly enforced and employers find loopholes even after rulings.

"Over 80 percent of them get nothing. Zero zilch. They go through the entire labor system and it just becomes a mockery," Shin said.

This is something that advocates hope the anti-wage theft ordinance can address.

"It involves businesses transferring their assets or changing their names or filing bankruptcy when workers have filed claims with the Department of Labor so we want to try to address that particular problem so businesses will not have that ability," Joanna Concepcion of the Filipino Migrant Center said.

The ordinance is still in early planning stages but local elected officials have already pledged their support to a wage theft ordinance.

"I will help you to get that because everybody's dream is to have a good wage, a good job," Robert Uranga, Long Beach City Council member, said.