El Paso Becomes Second City to Indict Employer for Wage Theft

On Thursday, for the first time in El Paso history an employer was arrested and indicted for robbing a worker of his wages.

In a state that constantly (and loudly) touts its business-friendly attitude, workers almost never reap the benefits. Construction workers and other low-income workers suffer some of the worst conditions in the country, with some of the worst pay.

In 2011, Austin-based Workers Defense Project successfully lobbied for a bill that amended the state’s wage theft code, authored by Senator Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso), that made it harder for employers to get away with stealing workers’ wages. The amendment to the Texas criminal code closed a loophole which allowed employers to get away with paying employees only partially for their work without facing criminal charges. El Paso has become the first city outside of Austin to indict an employer for stealing wages.

“It’s huge because we’re finally treating the stealing of someone’s wages the same way we treat someone stealing from Target or Albertsons or [any] store,” says Jed Untereker, an attorney with Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project who represented the employee. “The consequence for an unscrupulous employer is you’re going to be thrown in jail if you don’t pay your workers what they’re owed.”

In El Paso, workers advocates were able to get the case to the indictment stage because of the El Paso Wage Theft Task Force created in 2011. So far, El Paso is the only city in Texas with an official wage theft task force, which includes the El Paso Police Department, the El Paso Sheriff’s Office, El Paso County and District Attorneys and the Labor Justice Committee.

The Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project is also a member of the task force, as is Sen. Rodriguez, the author of the bill. “While implementation of SB 1024 continues to be a challenge, we are making progress,” Rodriguez said in a statement. “Because non-payment of wages is especially common for low wage workers, it is a major quality-of-life issue. Working families with no margin for temporary hardship cannot afford to miss even one paycheck.” … FULL STORY