Workers celebrate launch of wage theft task force

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San Francisco workers and activists, with legendary labor organizer Dolores Huerta, at City Hall
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY YAEL CHANOFF

San Francisco's wage theft task force, approved in June, had its first meeting today.

The wage theft task force formed to strengthen the city response to workers exploited by wage theft, which can include non-payment of the minimum wage or of hours worked, non-payment of overtime, illegal deductions from worker paychecks, or failure to pay a worker at all.

The group is made up of workers' rights advocates and government leaders at labor law enforcement agencies, as well as workers and employers. They plan to meet monthly and to release a report in one year with recommendations to the Board of Supervisors for legislation to continue to combat wage theft.

They were also joined by Dolores Huerta at an announcement today celebrating the first meeting. Huerta co-founded the United Farm Workers with César Chávez and has led a life dedicated to ending exploitation of workers. Wage theft, she said, “is not something that only affects workers.”

It hurts employers, she said, by putting “honest employers at a disadvantage.” And “the government loses too,” in the form of dollars lost for social security, unemployment insurance, and other government services funded by taxes on wages paid to employees.

Many workers are reluctant to speak out when they are denied pay, fearing retaliation or losing their jobs.

“When you are living paycheck to paycheck, if you lose your job, your whole family is going to suffer,” said Huerta.

Despite these obstacles, workers have come forward for years to expose the widespread problem.

One such worker, Afredil Colindies, was present at today's announcement. “I was working seven days a week with no breaks. Sometimes I would get paid, sometimes I would go through extended periods without getting paid,” said Colindies. “When the café where he worked went out of busines, he said, “I still had unpaid wages.”

“The reason we in City Hall finally realized how big a problem this is, is that they had the courage to come forward” said Sup. Campos who helped create the task force alongside Sup. Eric Mar.

“Although the governor has vetoed the domestic workers bill of rights, we are still moving forward for workers here in San Francisco” said Mar.

About 50 workers were in the room celebrating the launch of the task force, the result of years of work from groups like the Progressive Workers Alliance- a coalition of the Chinese Progressiave Association, Young Workers United, the Filipino Community Center and others. The room broke into an energetic chant of “si se puede,” the rallying cry of United Farm Workers, as the announcement ended.

“What starts in San Francisco goes through California, then all across the country” said Huerta.

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