Immigrant workers seek crack down on labor laws

The Associated Press
Saturday June 30, 2001

LOS ANGELES — Frustrated by the postponement of a state hearing on workers’ rights, dozens of immigrant workers rallied outside Gov. Gray Davis’ local office Friday and urged full enforcement of labor laws. 

A delegation of activists delivered a letter to Davis’ office and met with a member of the governor’s staff who assured the workers there would be a budget increase for the Department of Industrial Relations and agreed to look into the group’s request to have a meeting with Davis, said Joann Lo with the Garment Worker Center. 

A phone call to Davis’ press office was not immediately returned. 

“We demand more attention and resources to ensure the rights of workers to fair wages, safe working conditions and an efficient process to demand recourse for labor law violations,” the 

letter stated. 

“Conditions for immigrant workers are not better now than they were under the previous administration, and the Department of Industrial Relations continues to fail under your administration to adequately uphold and enforce current labor laws.” 

Day laborers marched up and down the sidewalk in front of the Ronald Reagan State Building alongside janitors and garment and restaurant workers carrying signs that said “put labor laws into action.”  

Wearing brightly colored T-shirts and chanting in Spanish, a couple hundred workers turned out for the midday rally. 

Assemblyman Paul Koretz, D-West Hollywood, is chairman of the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee that had been scheduled to hear from the workers Friday.  

The meeting was postponed until July 26 because of schedule conflicts, Koretz said, including prolonged budget negotiations that are under way in Sacramento. 

Workers want the next budget to include an additional $5.5 million for enforcement of labor laws.  

The budget likely will include about a $5 million increase, Koretz said, which is only part of what is needed to improve the situation. 

“Funding is the problem. There’s not enough funding for inspectors. If the laws were enforced actively it would make a huge difference,” Koretz said. 

The Department of Industrial Relations is so short-staffed and underfunded that the average employer of immigrant workers is likely only to get a random visit from inspectors every 60 to 100 years, Koretz said. 

Immigrant workers who claimed to have fallen victim to corrupt employers spoke through interpreters Friday to tell of their own experiences and frustrations in trying to get the state to respond to their complaints. 

Mateo Cruz, a day laborer who said he cleaned restaurants for 40 days for one employer, contends he is owed $2,000 after putting in 12-hour days. 

Yeny Saavedra, a garment worker who says she worked up to 15 hours a day sometimes, filed a complaint against her employer for failure to receive overtime pay, but has not received any funds. She said she is owed some $15,000 in back overtime pay, penalties and damages. 

The workers want a commitment that the hearing will be held at the new scheduled date of July 26, and Koretz said he hopes it won’t have to be rescheduled again. 

“One way or another we’re going to have a hard-hitting hearing, and we’re going to dramatize (these abuses) as much as possible,” he said.