Arizona Workers Rights Center
by Nicolas de la Fuente
The AZ Worker Rights Center (AZWRC) exists to challenge workplace injustice in partnership with the working men and women ofArizona and in collaboration with faith and labor communities, ethical business owners and government agencies. We strive to serve the broader community through education, outreach and advocacy for worker friendly policies. Our anti-wage theft campaign has been funded by the National Self Development of People Committee.
Studies show that nationally, billions of dollars are stolen from workers each year and millions of dollars go unpaid every week in our nation’s largest cities. Phoenix,AZ is the sixth largest city in the U.S.and unfortunately is not an exception to the rule. Over the past three years the AZWRC has documented well over 1 million dollars in unpaid wages stemming from 300 cases of wages theft. The AZWRC has only been able to collect roughly 35 percent of those stolen wages. We are proud that we have facilitated the collection of unpaid wages to individuals who need to pay their rent and feed their children, but 35 percent is not good enough. The sheer scale of the problem, compounded by the difficulty to collect unpaid wages is what drove our members to take on a city and state wide campaign to prevent wage theft from taking place, and to improve the collection rates when it does happen. Our campaign goals are to pass resolutions of support with the city of Phoenix and Tucson to back our state wide initiative to amend the theft of services statute to include “hours worked,” which would make the none payment of wages a criminal offense. Over the past four months the AZWRC has made some solid progress.
In February, 2012 the local ABC news station interviewed workers from a large Phoenix-based construction company who sought assistance from theWorkerCenter. The Worker Rights Center assisted these workers with filing overtime and unpaid wage complaints with the federal DOL. This report led to the introduction and passage of a bill increasing the amount of money a worker can claim with the state Department of Labor from $2,500.00 to $5,000.00. This was a huge victory for us, and for all the working men and women ofArizona.
In June of 2012 we will be holding a community forum at Southminister Presbyterian Church with key members from the Phoenix City Council, faith leaders, union leaders and community leaders to hear testimonies from members of theWorkerCenterwho have experienced wage theft. We will also be discussing the devastating effect wage theft has on our communities and local economy. Resulting from the forum, we hope to pass a Resolution of Support with the city ofPhoenixby the end of 2012 and introduce legislation to criminalize the non-payment of wages in the first quarter of 2013. Thanks to National Self Development of People Committee, we will have purchased professional translation equipment before the community forum to bridge the gap between monolingual Spanish and English speakers so that everyone’s voice is heard in the forum. We look forward to reporting back to SDOP in the months to come.