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Latino Daily News

Thursday March 24, 2011

Number of Iowa Workers, Mostly Immigrants, Not Being Paid Wages Increasing

The number of claims that Latino workers are not being paid wages is increasing, particularly in one Midwest state.

Since October, the Iowa’s Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) has been able to recoup over $80,000 from 11 employers who withheld wages from workers.

CCI development director Sharon Zanders- Ackiss, said, ““It’s either a growing problem, or it’s a problem that’s getting exposed, and we’re seeing a lot of it.”

Wage complaints can take months to even reach a state employee, and that person is usually responsible for 175 at a time, said departing state labor commissioner Dave Neil. However, a bill that would speed up the process is currently in the hands of the Republican-controlled House, where its future has yet to be determined. The bill would require employers to notify employees of their wages and deductions in writing, and would not allow an employer to fire or discriminate against an employee assisting in a wage investigation.

Opponents of the bill say it would place more regulations on businesses, but not do anything to stop the dishonest ones from not paying their workers.

In central Iowa, where the problem is concentrated, the Des Moines Register reported that the federal government along with other organizations were investigating the ever increasing number of wage theft cases, most of which involve immigrant workers in already low-paying jobs.

Now, the problem seems to be the long wait for action to be taken. With a backlog of cases, many of the workers are angry, and say they just want the money they worked for. Some companies get away with not having to pay, because they file for bankruptcy.

Neil named Agriprocessors in Postville, IA as an example. The now-closed meatpacking plant, never had to pay the $265,000 it owed in back wages once it filed for bankruptcy in 2008.

“Every worker, I don’t care who they are, is entitled to fair pay and fair wages and to be paid on time, regardless of their nationality. They’re also entitled to a safe and healthy workplace,” Neil said, “regardless of whether they’re legal or illegal.”