LatinaLista — One of the biggest fears and complaints from those who advocate for undocumented workers is employer exploitation.
There are countless stories of unscrupulous employers who knowingly exploit their undocumented workers by not paying them wages owed to them. The most common scenario is that when an undocumented worker starts to complain about the deceit, the employer threatens to call Immigration agents on the worker.
It seems one employer made good on that threat.
Not sure how this story found its way on my desktop but early today I found myself scanning the Niagara County police reports for February 15, 2010 assembled by the staff from the Niagara Gazette.
The second report caught my eye. It happened in the Town of Lockport and it involved three undocumented workers, a housing sub-contractor and U.S. Customs/Border Patrol.
Casual readers of the report would have thought nothing of three undocumented workers getting caught on a worksite by Immigration agents and carted off to be deported. Yet to someone who understands that in cases between undocumented immigrants and an employer, there are always two sides to every story, this particular incident had so many red flags waving that it's a wonder the story got out.
Rather than rephrase what happened, it's easier to cut and paste the original report:
TOWN OF LOCKPORT
Workers detained after harassment call
Three Hispanic workers were taken into custody Saturday by the U.S. Customs/Border Patrol for being in the United States illegally.
The Niagara County Sheriff's Department responded to a wage dispute at a house construction site on Rebecca Drive. A sub-contractor for Ryan Homes was allegedly pushed by a worker who was upset over wages he claimed he was owed.
Three other workers who were hanging drywall were interviewed, but the language barrier made it difficult to do so. The Border Patrol was called and Supervisor Chris Griffiths and agent Sal Caccamo detained and took Francisco A. Monzon, 30, and Oscar Vasques-Canales, 28, of Hyattsville, Md. and Jose Mauricio Pereira-Santos, 23, unknown address, into custody.
The sub-contractor from Quarryville, Pa., did not want to pursue charges against the worker who allegedly pushed him and who had proper paperwork.
A case of employer exploitation doesn't get much clearer than this. A guy who was promised to be paid a certain amount gets upset when the boss changes his mind. The guy pushes the boss, or so the boss says, and the boss decides to call the police.
The police arrive and discover that the guy who did the supposed shoving, along with three others who couldn't speak English, are all undocumented. Out of the goodness of the sub-contractor's heart, he doesn't want to press charges.
Wouldn't that be assault? It would, if it happened and maybe it did. But who can blame the worker?
What's unreal about this story is that no one is bothering to cite this sub-contractor for 1. Knowingly hiring undocumented workers -- after all, if the police could ascertain their legal status in a short time, odds are the employer knew about it; and 2. Fining or jailing this sub-contractor for gross exploitation of this employee, and who knows how many others.
Another disturbing piece of this story is if there is any kind of Spanish-speaking population in this area, why don't the police have access to translators to be able to ask those other workers what happened?
From this account, it sounds either like the word of this su-contractor is being taken indisputably over the word of these workers or simply because they are undocumented, the police immediately discounted their right to be heard or paid.
That is slave labor at its worst and by not pursuing the case against the sub-contractor the police appear to be aiding him.
The report ends by saying the sub-contractor didn't want to press charges. It was definitely not out of the goodness of his heart. He called the police because it was a way to put this worker in his place and show the other workers that they don't dare challenge him when it comes to their wages, but business-wise, it would be disastrous for him to press charges since that would bring his operations under scrutiny.
The report said that this guy was a sub-contractor for Ryan Homes. A spokesman from Ryan Homes had not heard about the case until Latina Lista brought it to their attention. They are in the process of investigating it.
Something else that didn't quite make sense was that the report ended by saying someone had "proper paperwork." How can the employer have proper paperwork if his workers were undocumented? Or do they mean the worker had proper paperwork?
Either way, the subcontractor seems to be absolved from all blame and allowed to resume business as usual -- which evidently means exploiting workers to the point of turning them in to Immigration officials just to get a job done under cost.