This week, despite rain, flooded streets and tornado warnings, more than 100 workers, responsible business owners, and community, faith and labor allies in Houston gathered for a march and rally in front of city hall demanding action from council members and the mayor to end wage theft.
The rally’s cry for justice was confirmed to have reached Mayor Annise Parker’s ears during a city council session. She and city council members heard testimonies about a wage theft ordinance earlier that afternoon from IWJ's Executive Director Kim Bobo; Stan Marek, owner of Marek Brothers Systems Inc.—a local commercial construction company; Laura Perez-Boston, director of the Houston Interfaith Worker Justice Center; and Cindy Gutowski who continues to fight for the more than $7,000 of wages her former employer at a local Floral Shop owes her.
Speakers at the rally included:
- Council Member Wanda Adams, who presented a proclamation on behalf of Houston denouncing wage theft and declaring March 20 “Wage Theft Awareness Day”
- Kim Bobo, executive director and founder of Interfaith Worker Justice
- Deacon Sam Dunning, director of the Office of Justice and Peace of the Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston
- Cindy Gutowski and Adalinda Rodriguez, active members of the Houston Interfaith Worker Justice Center whose families have been directly affected by wage theft.
- Many other worker advocates
The proposed ordinance, developed through with worker-members of the Houston Interfaith Worker Justice Center, was submitted to the city council in February. The proposal included provisions for an administrative hearing process through Houston’s Office of Business Opportunities where a worker could bring forth a claim. It also includes provisions that would ban companies found guilty of wage theft from securing city contracts, business licenses and permits needed to continue operating in the city.
The Down with Wage Theft Coalition of 29 organizations led by the Houston Interfaith Worker Justice Center, organized the rally and issued the following statement on the need for the proposed wage theft ordinance:
In the context we're living in today with unemployment still high and the cost of living steadily rising, Houston needs jobs; but not just any jobs. Houston needs employment that sustains and supports a family, and helps our local economy grow stronger. Our jobs should be a pathway out of poverty, not a perpetuation of poverty.
When Texas leads the nation in the highest percentage of minimum wage jobs (tied only with Mississippi), when working parents are often left juggling multiple jobs to make ends meet, and when the incidence of wage and hour violations is as high as 1 in 4 for workers in low-wage industries, it's clear workers are being left with the short end of the stick. It is conservatively estimated that $1.2 billion dollars of earned wages are stolen from Houston workers each year.
We believe that in the 4th largest city in the United States, second only to New York City in the number of Fortune 500 headquarters, which as an independent nation would rank as the world's 30th largest economy, all of Houston’s residents should be able to prosper and wage thieves should face real consequences.