Hurricane Harvey and Wage Theft
Hurricane Harvey has had a devastating effect on southeast Texas and surrounding areas, causing unprecedented damage. In the aftermath, we need to ensure employees’ rights are protected from low-road employers who might seek to use this crisis to avoid paying employees and gain advantage during this time of need.
As the storm waters were rising, many security officers and janitors stayed on post for hours, and even days, without break to ensure the safety and maintenance of city buildings, despite danger and loss of power at many locations. Now some of these workers are worried their employers will not pay for this time they spent protecting and maintaining City property.
In addition, as the hurricane took its toll on highways, automobiles, homes, public transit, infrastructure and more, some employees felt pressure to report to work in dangerous conditions, despite having no means of getting there.
According to Marianela Arreaza, the executive director of Fe y Justicia, a Houston-based nonprofit that supports low-income immigrants with legal concerns, “After Hurricane Ike, our Worker Center saw a spike in wage theft and workplace injuries.” These findings add to the in-depth report, “An Injustice To All – Workers’ Lives in the Reconstruction of New Orleans”, which found similar wage theft problems in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
It is clear that wage theft can be a serious problem in the service industry. We want to ensure that no company profits by taking advantage of this vulnerable time—security officers and janitors who protect our city’s buildings should be paid wages for the hours they remained on post, they should not be retaliated against for lack of means to get to work due to the hurricane, they should be paid at minimum every two weeks and in a manner in accordance with Federal and State law, they should not be denied unemployment if a location is closed due to a natural disaster and should not work at any site that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) deems unacceptable.