Rebecca Smith, NELP Coordinator of the Immigrant Worker Justice Project, on Cesar Chavez day

On March 31st, in the United States we celebrated Cesar Chavez day

Chavez was an inspirational hero, leader and teacher who organized the most vulnerable immigrant workers in the country, and taught generations of Americans how to organize for social change.

Cesar Chavez day was a fitting day to turn out attention to a dismal reality for low-wage and immigrant workers in our country – wage theft.  A 2009 study showed that in American cities, ¼ of low-wage workers suffer wage theft.  A whopping ¾ of those surveyed weren’t paid extra compensation for overtime work.  And nearly half suffered some form of retaliation if they spoke up about it.

At the same time, from Miami-Dade County in Florida, to Ohio to Seattle, Washington, grassroots groups are following the Chavez model and organizing to stop wage theft.  Community coalitions are waging campaigns against wage theft in at least twenty states.  In the past two weeks, the National Employment Law Project released Winning Wage Justice, a community guide for fighting wage theft.  The guide includes one chapter focused on the special issues confronting immigrant workers when they seek fair pay. By providing this menu of best practices to fight wage theft, NELP hopes to help community groups, unions, and policymakers craft local solutions that will turn the tide and shift the conditions in our nation’s workplaces from wage theft to wage justice.

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