“A steep rise in wage theft cases” since July is impacting East Enders working in the construction and housekeeping industries, Organizacion Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island said this week.
The advocacy group, which primarily assists the Spanish-speaking community and immigrant populations here, said at present it is assisting 22 people who are facing wage theft. It’s not a new issue, OLA said, but “this is the first time, however, that so many people have come forward at once,” representing the greatest number of such cases in OLA’s 21-year history.
“Whether it’s workplace abuse such as wage theft or abuse of tenants’ rights — which we see all the time in the form of attempted illegal evictions and landlords refusing to pay tenants the security deposits they’re owed — this is, sadly, the reality of life in the Hamptons,” Minerva Perez, OLA’s executive director, said in a statement Monday. “Many immigrant workers are still struggling economically as a result of losing their jobs during the pandemic; they’re desperate to get back on their feet by working as much as they can only to find that their ‘reward’ is that their employer refuses to pay them.”
OLA has been working with the New York State Department of Labor’s Division of Immigrant Policies and Affairs and with another civil rights organization, LatinoJustice, to support those coming forward as victims of wage theft.
Erika Padilla, a legal advocate employed by OLA, said in a statement that “trust is a key factor” in the efforts to help these victims.
“Regardless of what someone’s immigration status might be, it can be scary to approach a government entity like the D.O.L. alone,” said Ms. Padilla. “People reach out to OLA because they trust us, because they know we are here to serve them and will do what it takes to resolve their case. Our strong relationships both with our community and with our partners are key to making sure people’s rights are protected and that they get the money they’ve worked so hard for.”
Ms. Padilla said the Department of Labor “has been incredibly responsive,” often sending a Spanish-speaking representative to Riverhead to meet with clients directly.
OLA has also been providing educational resources and individual counseling so that people can protect themselves from wage theft. To minimize those risks from other avenues, OLA said it has also been educating small-business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs on the legal aspects of starting a business.
In her statement, Ms. Perez called on businesses, government officials, media outlets, and other individuals to “collaborate with OLA on putting an end to wage theft,” believing that these entities “could play an important role in protecting the workplace rights of local community members through educating the public, making employees aware of the laws that protect them — regardless of immigration status — and amplifying the issue.”
“Noise from leaf blowers gets a lot of attention from towns and villages, but who is talking about wage theft and the hard-working people who aren’t getting paid for doing the work that keeps the economic engine of our community running?” Ms. Perez asked.