In this current economic climate, stories of hardship associated with the labor market are all too common. The anxiety and fear experienced as a result of job instability are undeniable. Yet, most American employees can be secure that they will at least be paid for the work they do perform. However, many low-income workersin this country – oftentimes immigrants – cannot take for granted the right to be paid. Far too many toil for the profit of others but don’t get paid the minimum wage or don’t get paid at all.
The Equal Justice Center (“EJC”) has been working for over 8 years in Austin to helping these victimized workers recover unpaid wages and bring the offending employers to justice. Now with the help of a cy pres grant administered by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation (“TAJF”), EJC has partnered with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (“TRLA”) to provide legal representation to hundreds of previously under-served, low-wage working men and women in the San Antonio region. This effort was made possibleby the foresight and dedication of attorneys Jeff Rasansky, Michael Smith, and Jeremi K. Young who directed funds to TAJF through a cy presaward in a class action they settled.
The groundbreaking project is noteworthy both for the number of low-wage workers being served, and for the depth of expertise afforded to these clients by the EJC-TRLA collaboration. In its first nine months the partnership has provided legal help to over 125 low-income working people in the San Antonio region. Thousands more are being educated through radio, seminars, and outreach literature about ways to protect their basic employment rights.
The true value of the project, however, is best illustrated by the story of Faustina Rodriguez who approached the lawyers of the EJC-TRLA collaboration when she and a co-worker were not paid for their construction clean-up work at a Staybridge Suites Hotel built near Sea World. The attorneys helped the women file mechanics liens and negotiate full payment of their wages. In a final settlement meeting, the company owners extended to the women an acknowledgment for their work and a vow that the offending manager would never be rehired.
While the formal redress sought by Ms. Rodriguez had been monetary compensation forher labor, the knowledge that her fight also improved conditions for other workers gave her a new sense of her power in our legal system and in the larger community.