Published December 5, 2023 at 11:11 AM EST
OLA (Organización Latino Americana) of Eastern Long Island reported that the number of wage theft cases has skyrocketed on the East End, reaching levels never before seen by this group that works to support the Latino community.
“OLA is responding to more calls than ever from victims of wage theft,” the organization said in a statement.
OLA said that the uptick in cases, which is normally seen at the end of the summer, began earlier this year. Complaints have been received since July and the organization is currently helping 22 members of the East End community recover “wages stolen by unscrupulous employers.”
This is the largest number of cases OLA has handled in its 21-year history. The majority of these victims work in the construction and cleaning industries.
The nonprofit organization has a long history of successfully recovering stolen wages from employers who refuse to pay their workers what they are owed for work performed. Depending on the case, OLA turns to local private lawyers or handles complaints internally.
But this is the first time so many people have come forward at once, strengthening OLA's existing partnerships with the New York State Department of Labor and LatinoJustice, a nonprofit that handles litigation over civil rights.
Currently the Department of Labor (DOL) is assisting six OLA clients, LatinoJustice is assisting five and another 11 clients are in the process of giving additional information, so that OLA connects them with one of these entities.
“We are working very closely with LatinoJustice and the state Department of Labor has been incredibly responsive,” said OLA General Counsel Erika Padilla. “I email the DOL Deputy Director of Immigrant Affairs and Policy with the details of a case and she responds immediately. They also regularly send a Spanish-speaking representative to Riverhead so that the clients we work with and other members of the community have the opportunity to make their case.”
Trust is a key factor when helping community members in a wage theft case, Padilla said.
“Regardless of what a person's immigration status is, it can be scary to approach a government entity like the DOL alone,” Padilla said. “People turn to OLA because they trust us, because they know that we are here to serve them and we will do whatever it takes to resolve their case. Our strong relationships with both our community and partners are key to ensuring people’s rights are protected and they get the money they have worked so hard for.”
Last October, Tu Local Prensa presented the dramatic story of a resident of our area who was forced by her employer to work long days cleaning houses, often without having access to lunch or a few minutes of rest, and then refused to pay her for her work. OLA reported on that story, then received five other complaints against the same person, for wage theft.
“Whether it's workplace abuse, like wage theft, or abuse of tenants' rights, which we see all the time in the form of illegal eviction attempts and landlords refusing to pay tenants the security deposits they owe. This is, unfortunately, the reality of life in the Hamptons,” said OLA Executive Director Minerva Pérez. “Many immigrant workers are still struggling economically as a result of losing their jobs during the pandemic. They are desperate to get back on their feet by working as hard as they can, only to find that their 'reward' is that their employer refuses to pay them.”
Pérez called on East End municipal governments, businesses and local media to collaborate with OLA in ending wage theft. She believes that all of these entities could play an important role in protecting the labor rights of local community members, by educating the public, raising employee awareness of the laws that protect them (regardless of their immigration status) and the amplification of the problem.
“The noise of leaf blowers attracts a lot of attention in cities and towns, but who is talking about wage theft and hard-working people not getting paid to do the work that keeps our economic engine running?" she added.
In addition to working with the Department of Labor, LatinoJustice and local partners to help victims of wage theft, OLA also offers educational forums for small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs on licensing and other legal aspects necessary to start a business. OLA legal counsel also educates clients individually on how to protect themselves from wage theft. If you have a case, please contact OLA at 631 899 3441 . Source: https://www.wshu.org/long-island-news/2023-12-05/latino-advocacy-group-reports-uptick-in-wage-theft-on-long-islands-east-end