I had a great time at the Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) Leadership Summit in New Orleans this weekend. It was my first time in New Orleans, and I love it there! It reminds me of San Francisco in some ways. Definitely a much cooler city than Houston.
The conference was great. It was people from other worker centers, other groups (mainly of faith leaders) involved with IWJ, and members of the National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON). It was really inspiring to hear the successes and actions of groups in other places. One resounding conclusion is the best tactic to resolve worker abuses is direct action - organizing protests, employer visits, media events, etc. One group in San Francisco that focuses on restaurant workers often has the worker go to the restaurant (with a group of supporters), pull the manager out in front of the customers, and read a letter denouncing the injustices in front of everyone. We got to hear moving stories from workers, and some hopeful messages of change in the Department of Labor (which currently does a really lousy job).
Everybody needs to familiarize themselves with wage theft. There is a systematic problem in this country of workers not being paid for their work. These are primarily low-wage workers and a huge number are immigrant workers, but the issue affects everyone. Sometimes it is nonpayment of overtime, sometimes it is not receiving a final paycheck, sometimes it's nonpayment of minimum wage, or sometimes, in the case of many day laborers in particular, it's working for weeks, being told you'll get paid the following day, and your employer never showing up. This keeps people from being able to pay their rent and feed their families, but government agencies that are supposed to enforce our wage and hour laws are not doing what they're supposed to. If we send a complaint to the Texas Workforce Commission, the state agency that deals with wage theft, they don't respond for six months. The Government Accountability Office recently did an investigation and report ripping apart the Wage and Hour Division of the DOL.
Also, support the DREAM Act!