By Rebecca Parr
Staff Writer, Bay Area News Group
HAYWARD -- Day laborers are all too often ripped off by unscrupulous contractors, who refuse to pay them after the job is done. A new video aims to let workers know their rights.
The video, produced by Cal State East Bay criminal justice students in collaboration with the Hayward Day Labor Center, was a class project this fall in Silvina Ituarte's class, Prejudice, Violence and Hate Crimes.
The idea came about during discussions between Ituarte and Alejandro Galindo, legal advocate and job developer at the center. The video seemed like a perfect fit to Ituarte, who also is head of the university's Criminal Justice Administration Department.
"I try to come up with projects that are related to the community, so that the students feel engaged in the community and they feel empowered to make a difference," Ituarte said.
The 5½ minute video sets up a scenario where laborers work on a job, only to have an employer refuse to pay them. The labor center cannot help them because they do not have documented information about the job. The scenario is then replayed with the workers using a booklet to record the employer's name, license plate number, hours worked and other details. Because the workers have gathered the information, Galindo then tells them he can work to recover the lost wages.
"Wage theft is a really big problem; it's more common than people think," he said. "Because workers are in a vulnerable situation because of their immigration status or a lack of awareness of their rights, they don't pursue legal avenues."
He said some shady contractors count on that. The contractors hire laborers and don't pay them, then move on and hire workers in a different town. But the workers can fight back if they document details about a job.
"Armed with this information, the workers can come to me as legal advocate, and the center can represent the worker in a wage claim in front of the state labor commission," Galindo said. He said the center has filed several successful claims, not only obtaining judgments for wages owed, but also penalties against the employer.
Day Labor Center director Gabriel Hernandez said the nonprofit agency works with the Alameda County district attorney's office to prosecute contractors.
"About a year ago, one guy who hired three of our workers went to jail and had to pay the workers $5,500. He was ripping off these poor guys who were looking for work," Hernandez said.
Laborer Juan Carlos (the center asked that this newspaper not use the workers' last names because some of them are not documented) had a contractor skip out on paying, saying he was dissatisfied with the workers' job.
"He got the payment from the homeowner, picked up all the tools and left," Juan Carlos said through a translator. But one of the other workers on the job knew where the contractor lived.
"I went to the contractor's home and demanded payment, telling him otherwise I would have to call the police. Then he wanted to pay only part of what he owed," he said. Juan Carlos finally received the $200 due him, but he doesn't know if the other workers did.
Gonzalo, who has been with the Day Labor Center since almost its beginning five years ago, had a similar story.
"Before the center was here, I had an employer who refused to pay me. I had to go to his home and threaten to call the police," he said. The contractor finally paid him the $400 owed.
The Hayward Day Labor Center is hoping to protect even more workers by expanding into Oakland and the Tri-Valley Area, Hernandez said.
The center, which has 300 to 400 registered workers, is among those applying for a grant from Oakland to set up an office in the Fruitvale area. The city will award the grant in the spring.
And the center was approached about setting up a satellite office in Pleasanton in a partnership with businesses there, he said.
The students' video has caught the attention of other centers in the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, and many have requested copies. "This video is something we want to share with other centers," Hernandez said.
The video is in Spanish; the students will add English subtitles to widen its audience.
"Initially the audience was going to be day laborers in Hayward, who are primarily Spanish-speaking," Ituarte said. "Wow, for it to go national, that shows the students are having a huge impact. That's amazing."
Day Labor Center Video
To see an early cut of the Cal State East Bay students' video, go to http://youtu.be/W2WJ-ed9OUw.
For more information about the Hayward Day Labor Center, 680 W. Tennyson Road, call 510-782-9675 or go to www.daylaborcenter.org.