Georgia Still on My Mind

During the hearing on Georgia’s HB 87, a replication of Arizona’s notorious SB 1070, Judge Thomas Thrash posed a hypothetical scenario: an 18-year-old man is driving his mother to church. He is a citizen, while his mother is not. Under HB 87, would the son be a criminal? The question is not a theoretical matter for thousands of families in Georgia, and millions nationwide. It is reality.

Carrboro day laborers may get center

By Sarah Glen
Updated:
6 hours ago

Randee Haven-O’Donnell remembers advocating for the worker movement in college as one of her most rewarding endeavors.

“You knew that you were supporting emerging populations that would make a difference to the families and the future of our nation, store ” she said.

As a member of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, Haven-O’Donnell and other local advocates are joining together to support the area’s growing Hispanic day laborer population.

Eager for work and clad in paint-flecked boots indicative of the construction industry, anywhere from 30 to 60 men stand at the corner of Jones Ferry Road and Davie Road each morning.

Come rain, sleet or snow, they wait outside for the glimpse of a potential employer driving around the corner.

Now, many believe it is time for them to move inside.

Molly De Marco, leader of the fair jobs and wages team at Orange County Justice United, said while labor center discussions are still in their early stages, the recent establishment of a relationship with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network is a step in the right direction.

“With at least 30 centers nationwide, they can help us a lot with funding options and making sure we engage workers in every step of the process,” she said.

In addition to providing workers with a safe place to wait for employers and access to restrooms, De Marco said a laborer center could ease tensions with neighborhoods surrounding the current informal pick-up location and even open up new opportunities to female workers.

While no concrete plans have been agreed upon, advocates are currently considering El Centro Hispano in Carrboro Plaza as a potential location for a laborer center.

Mauricio Castro, an organizer with the N.C. Latino Coalition and founder of El Centro Hispano’s predecessor El Centro Latino, said El Centro Hispano presents a promising opportunity because it could offer workers health or education services and access to a bilingual staff.

“Based on the conversations we’ve had with the workers, they are very excited about the possibility not only to look for work but also to be able to develop other skills,” he said. “Many were excited about the possibility of using a computer lab to check their mail, to send messages to their families or to learn how to use the computers.”

Castro also said the discussion of how to staff a center is important because opening a laborer center could allow for the compilation of a database of reliable workers and employers.

“There is less chance for having any mishaps in terms of trust that way, and that’s one of the reasons we think proper education on this issue is important,” he said.

For now, Haven-O’Donnell said discussions between parties will continue throughout July and all interested are welcome.

“I think that getting behind workers and advocating for workers elevating their status is something students at the University can really sink their teeth into,” she said.

Contact the City Editor at city@dailytarheel.com.

Published June 27, 2011 in Carrboro Board of Aldermen

Lakewood reflects emerging Hispanic presence

1:50 PM, Jun. 26, 201 | Written by Margaret F. Bonafide | Source: Asbury Park Press

Lakewood's day-laborer "muster zone" between First and Second streets and Route 9 and Clifton Avenue where primarily Hispanic men go to find work. The town's Hispanic population is foreseen by some as forming an influential voting bloc. / TOM SPADER/ASBURY PARK PRESS

LAKEWOOD — Juan Gonzalez is an honors student at Lakewood Middle School, a violinist who plans to study theology or architecture at Harvard University.

An impressive public speaker at age 13, Gonzalez addressed several hundred people at a Board of Education meeting about school concerns with gangs.

“I want to become a citizen and have the same rights as anyone to achieve my dream,” he said during an interview on the last day of the school year.

Juan Gonzalez, 13, in the Lakewood Middle School library. Born in Mexico, Gonzalez is a example of Hispanic immigrant children who want to pursue the advantages of U.S. citizenship. / TOM SPADER/ASBURY PARK PRESS

Gonzalez, who was born in Puebla, Mexico, is a member of group here reflecting a national trend: an emerging Hispanic populace which could wield considerable political and cultural influence in the relatively near future.

The 2010 Census revealed the Hispanic population here surged over the past decade, from 9,000 to 16,000 — a 78 percent increase. Lakewood’s population according to the 2010 Census was 92,843, edging Toms River as Ocean County’s largest municipality.

Nationally, Hispanics account for more than half of nation’s growth in past decade, according to the census results released in March. The Census Bureau predicts that the nation will be one quarter Hispanic by 2050.

Lakewood’s Hispanic residents are mostly Mexican, also a reflection of the nation’s demographic makeup, according to the Pew Research Center.

The majority of the children in Lakewood are educated in private Orthodox Jewish schools, but in the public school district the 5,500-student enrollment is predominantly Hispanic, said Puerto Rican-born Annette Maldonado, Lakewood Middle School principal.

The bulk of the membership of the Parent Teacher Organization is of Mexican descent and speaks only Spanish. The school board provided at one meeting a Spanish translator through whom parents spoke.

Many Hispanic students are children of immigrant parents who entered the country legally; entered legally but remained after their visas expired; or entered illegally. No matter the status of the parents, their children born in this country are U.S. citizens, noted Monica Guerrero, director of the Latino Community Connection, a for-profit business.

Roots of a voting bloc

“Most Hispanics I know do hard labor,’’ said Gonzalez, the honors student. “I want to have a good life.”

When he becomes a citizen — like his classmates who were born here — Gonzalez will gain the right to vote. He doesn’t have political aspirations but he wants to be like the “righteous leader” cited in the Bible’s Book of Proverbs, he said.

These children of Hispanic parents will be voting by the next census, said Mayor Menashe Miller, and become a formidable voting bloc along with the Orthodox Jewish and senior communities.“This is the land of the free and the home of the brave. I think it is fantastic that these children will grow up and become voters,” Miller said.

“And the mosaic of the Township Committee should be a representation of who is in the town,” Miller said.

A majority Hispanic students in the middle school and especially the elementary school were born here, Maldonado said. In civics class students learn about citizen duties and are preparing to become voting residents, Maldonado said.

“They are being educated to take a more active stance,” Maldonado said.

In a broader view, the recent trip by President Barack Obama to Puerto Rico shows that the Hispanic vote is sought-after, said Kathryn Quinn-Sanchez, 41, chairwoman of world languages and cultures at Georgian Court University.

“But it will take another generation to be a voting bloc,” Quinn Sanchez said.

And the Hispanic vote is not monolithic, Quinn-Sanchez said. There are a dozen nationalities grouped under the umbrella term of Hispanic, she said. Though categorized as the same, members of the different nationalities do not feel the same “homogeneity as, say, a group of senior citizens would,” Quinn-Sanchez said.

Role of education

Hispanic parents “have a dream for their children to be educated,” said Jose, a 30-year-old day laborer man who declined to give a last name.

And educators in the school district are intent on getting the students out of the mindset of staying within the four corners of their community and to see the possibilities and power in their future, Maldonado said.

When children are exposed to the world of higher education they can see beyond their parent’s walls, Maldonado said.

This past year middle school children visited colleges and universities, she said.

“They heard things like ‘yes, you can.’ They don’t hear that at home because the knowledge is not there” on how to work toward greater achievements, Maldonado said.

What the parents do know, though, is hard work, she said.

Maldonado said she hopes that the children will be politicians helping their community to represent the people of Lakewood.

Already, said Guerrero of the Latino Community Connection, Hispanic residents feel more confident about their place in the community and are working hard to show their best side.

Laborers seek permanent site

BY MARK SCHULTZ, Staff Writer | Source: ChapelHillNews.com

CARRBORO – National day laborers organizers planned to meet with local workers this weekend to discuss establishing a permanent space where they can wait for work.Chris Newman and Francisco Pacheco of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network visited Orange County to learn more about the problems local workers have and to discuss the benefits of an official day laborers center.

El Centro Hispano (The Hispanic Center) is exploring using part of its space in Carrboro Plaza for a center. El Centro is a member of the community organizing coalition Justice United and is working with that group, the towns of Carrboro and Chapel Hill, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce and others.

Two meetings have been held with local day laborers, or jornaleros, who mostly come from Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador but also include black citizens, said Mauricio Castro, an organizer with the N.C. Latino Coalition.

The workers have expressed concerns about wage theft (not being paid for a day’s work) and safety at the corner of Jones Ferry and Davie roads where they gather for work. The site also does not have a bathroom.

The Carrboro day laborers spot is small compared to most across the country, Pacheco said. But the problems workers are having are not unique. It’s estimated that up to half of the 120,000 day laborers in the United States at any one time have not been paid for at least one day’s work, said Newman, the legal director for the laborer network.

The organizers said they are not here to tell local leaders to create a permanent gathering spot or take any other action.

“We’re coming as a resource,” Newman said. “Obviously Carrboro needs to decide what Carrboro wants to do.”

Read more about this weekend’s meeting with day laborers coming Wednesday in The Chapel Hill News.
mark.schultz@nando.com or 932-2003

Unfair working conditions: Blame greed,

Unfair working conditions: Blame greed, not the economy

June 24, 2011 | 12:51pm | Posted in the LA Times

Unfair working conditions: Blame greed, __fg_link_3__  not the economy In Friday’s pages, Harold Meyerson sheds light on the inhumane working conditions many undocumented immigrant workers face. Take day laborer Josue Melquisedec Diaz, for instance:

Diaz was put to work in a residential neighborhood that had been flooded. The American workers who were involved in the cleanup, he noted, had been given masks, gloves, boots and sometimes special suits to avoid infection. No such precautions were afforded Diaz and his crew of undocumented immigrant workers. “We were made to work with bare hands, picking up dead animals,” he says. “We were working in contaminated water,” tearing down and repairing washed-out homes.

Stop and think about that. You may resent undocumented immigrants for taking jobs away from Americans, but you can’t possibly think they deserve to be treated like they’re subhuman and expendable. And, anyway, shouldn’t we reserve our contempt for employers skirting the law by hiring cheap labor? Meyerson continues:

Last week, New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez and California Reps. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) and George Miller (D-Martinez) introduced legislation (the POWER Act) that would give workers like Diaz provisional “U visas.” The visas were designed to provide temporary legal status to immigrant victims who come forward to report violent crimes, and the proposed legislation would expand the protection to those who come forward to report workplace violations. Such legislation, Menendez pointed out, would not only protect immigrants but keep unscrupulous employers from lowering labor standards generally.

The July/August issue of Mother Jones also takes on the issue the unfair working conditions. Take, for example, Martha’s story:

Unfair working conditions: Blame greed, not the economy

Of course, undocumented immigrants aren’t the only ones being squeezed for all they’re worth. The heart of Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery’s Mother Jones article, “All Work and No Pay,” describes the culture of the new American workplace — one that places value on flashy buzzwords like  “productivity,” “multitasking” and “offloading,” all of which really mean working employees to the bone. And though people may be inclined to shrug off intense working conditions as a temporary phase during a down economy, they shouldn’t:

In all the chatter about our “jobless recovery,” how often does someone explain the simple feat by which this is actually accomplished? US productivity increased twice as fast in 2009 as it had in 2008, and twice as fast again in 2010: workforce down, output up, and voilá! No wonder corporate profits are up 22 percent since 2007, according to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute. To repeat: Up. Twenty-two. Percent.

If your blood isn’t boiling yet, these charts will do the trick.

–Alexandra Le Tellier

Illustration: Mark Weber / Tribune Media Services

Man suing government over raid at 7-Eleven fled to U.S. because of death threat

Immigration officials say lawsuit should be thrown out and man deported

By Nick Madigan, health Originally posted in: 0, medical 2065062.story” target=”_blank”>The Baltimore Sun | 5:28 p.m. EDT, June 25, 2011

Sitting on a bus in Honduras in 2002, Denis Alvarez Alvarado says he overheard two men in front of him discussing how he was going to die.

Unaware that he was there, the men said that members of a gang called MS3 — who had kidnapped Alvarez a few days earlier, beaten him and eventually released him — intended to silence him so that he would not tell police about the abduction.

“I left Honduras because I was afraid that MS3 members would kill me,” Alvarez, now 32, says in court documents drawn up in his legal fight against the U.S. government to avoid deportation to his native country. “I fear that if I return the MS3 gang will have me killed.”

On Jan. 23, 2007, Alvarez, who had arrived in the U.S. without documentation, was arrested by immigration agents outside a 7-Eleven store in Upper Fells Point. A judge ordered him deported, but he is still here. Four years after his release on bail, he remains embroiled in a legal war as both defendant and plaintiff, and the battle could go on for years.

One of Alvarez’s legal cases is the effort by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to deport him, and the other is his lawsuit against the federal government, claiming that his constitutional rights were violated because he was targeted as a Latino. He seeks a half-million dollars in damages.

What seemed a routine matter of rounding up illegal immigrants has become a test of the government’s ability to force a man to return to a place in which, he says, he could die.

The raid in which Alvarez and others were arrested left Baltimore’s Latino community angry. Human rights activists, politicians and representatives of Casa de Maryland, an advocacy group, accused federal immigration agents of racial profiling.

Attorneys for the ICE declined to comment, and court documents contain no references, other than Alvarez’s own, to his claim that his life would be in danger should he be forced to go home. Alvarez’s lawyers were silent, too. Alvarez, whose 11-year-old son was born in the U.S., says in court documents that he is the sole source of financial support for his father, who is in Honduras, disabled and using a wheelchair.

In documents Alvarez filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, he explained the events that had prompted his departure from Honduras. He had lived in Choluteca, the country’s fourth-largest city, in a neighborhood called El Porvenir that he said was “known to belong to a gang called 18.”

Alvarez wrote that in October 2002 he was kidnapped by members of MS3, a rival gang from the Santa Lucia neighborhood. “The MS3 gang falsely believed that I was a member of 18,” he said. “I tried telling them that I was not a gang member and that I had no connections to 18 or any other gang. However, they did not believe me.”

For two days he was kept in a room, he said, beaten and deprived of food and with only a single bottle of water. Alvarez’s father, Santos, whom he described as “respected in the community,” convinced MS3 that his son had no connection to the rival gang.

Alvarez was released. Several days later, he was riding a bus to work when he overheard the chilling conversation between the two men and the death threat. He fled to the U.S. and worked as a day laborer in Baltimore, where the 7-Eleven parking lot on Broadway was a popular spot to pick up workers.

In an interview at his East Baltimore home in November, Alvarez said the agents had “grabbed me unjustly” during the roundup in 2007. Alvarez said he was waiting for a man who had promised to hire him as a painter but decided to go home when the man failed to show up. Alvarez said that as he was leaving, a van appeared and the men inside — who turned out to be federal agents — solicited the crowd for construction workers.

In the lawsuit, Alvarez said that as he walked away, a second vehicle blocked his exit and men emerged wearing holstered guns. Alvarez was arrested, held for several days in the Dorchester County jail and released on $10,000 bail.

Alvarez said in court documents that the ICE’s Fugitive Operations Team had arrested him “based on nothing more than his race.”

A response filed by the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the ICE, said members of its fugitive team went to the 7-Eleven only to get food and coffee, and had not planned to arrest anyone as part of a raid.

An immigration judge overseeing Alvarez’s appeal of his deportation said the officers “were not forthcoming” about the arrests. The judge said it was “implausible” that the officers “went to the store to food and coffee,” considering the “nearly immediate arrival of two additional ICE vehicles.” He admonished the officers for their “complete lack of candor to the court” and said they had misrepresented to the laborers “that they were seeking to hire them for casual employment.”

But the judge determined that the officers had not violated Alvarez’s rights and ordered him deported, though he may remain here while he appeals.

Other documents filed in the case suggest that immigration agents were determined to boost their arrest numbers. An internal DHS administrative report says that after the officers had detained nine people earlier on the day of Alvarez’s arrest, a supervisor ordered the team “back into the field and make additional arrests.”

According to the report, the supervisor said they “needed more numbers.” News accounts of the raid indicated that out of 24 people arrested, eight had been previously deported and six had criminal records. Alvarez has no such record.

Warren Price, an Annapolis immigration attorney who is not involved in Alvarez’s case, said it was rare for a roundup of illegal immigrants to result in such a drawn-out legal battle. Alvarez is represented by the Immigrant Justice Center, based at American University’s Washington College of Law.

“These constitutional violations against members of the undocumented population happen all the time, but you rarely see these types of lawsuits in response,” Price said. “Usually they just get deported.”

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

GLAHR Response to HB 87 Injunction

With parts of HB 87 temporarily blocked, community still threatened by Governor’s appeal and already existing 287(g) and the so-called ‘se communities’ program.
06.27.2011 Atlanta, GA. Today Judge Thrash announced a temporary and partial injunction on HB 87, enjoining sections 7 and 8 of the state law while allowing other sections to move forward. Governor Deal promptly declared his intention to appeal the decision.
Teodoro Maus of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR), plaintiff in the injunction suit responded to today’s announcement saying,
“We know that the law is unconstitutional. We will continue organizing until it is erased from Georgia’s books and our community is respected in this state for all we contribute. We ask our neighbors to take this moment to correct the false image of our community that has been created for them by hate-mongering anti-immigrant efforts.”
Adelina Nicholls, executive director of GLAHR added, “The court decision is a positive step forward but our communities still face discrimination from police empowered by the Obama administration’s 287(g) and se communities programs.
The criminalization of migrants is the wrong direction for our country regardless of whether it is state laws or federal programs propagating it. We now need an injunction on the federal level to stop programs that separate families. We need to turn toward a pathway for legalization.”
Gwinnett and Cobb counties are two of the most egregious examples of the racial profiling and discriminatory policing that occurs under federal ICE Access programs such as 287(g). HB 87 would have been an escalation of the already existing violations of civil and human rights of migrant and Latino communities in Georgia. Advocates are calling for the federal government to take a more active role in preventing implementation of HB 87, ending its own initiatives that have resulted in racial profiling and discriminatory policing, and pursuing genuine immigration reform.
GLAHR continues to call for a Day without Immigrants on July 1st and a march in recognition of the migrant community’s role in Georgia at the capitol on July 2nd. The partial injunction marks a temporary victory but dangerous segments of HB 87 are still moving forward. In that the Governor has already pledged to appeal its decision, the struggle for immigration reform and against racial bias in the state continues.

Protecting undocumented workers

Legislation would expand the protection of ‘U visas’ to those who come forward to report workplace violations.

Op-Ed By Harold Meyerson | June 24, 2011 | Source: 0,7107661.story” target=”_blank”>LA Times.com

Farm workers load a truck with cucumbers on a farm in Leslie, Ga. Last week, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and California Reps. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) and George Miller (D-Martinez) introduced the POWER Act that would give workers provisional "U visas." (John Bazemore / AP Photo)

Nearly every day for three years, Josue Melquisedec Diaz reported to work by going to a New Orleans street corner where contractors, subcontractors and people fixing up their places went to hire day laborers. It was there, one day in 2008, that a contractor picked him up and took him to Beaumont, Texas, just across the Louisiana line, to work on the cleanup, demolition and reconstruction projects that Beaumont was undertaking in the wake of Hurricane Gustav.

Diaz was put to work in a residential neighborhood that had been flooded. The American workers who were involved in the cleanup, he noted, had been given masks, gloves, boots and sometimes special suits to avoid infection. No such precautions were afforded Diaz and his crew of undocumented immigrant workers. “We were made to work with bare hands, picking up dead animals,” he says. “We were working in contaminated water,” tearing down and repairing washed-out homes.

Diaz told his story last week to a gathering of legislators and others in a meeting room at the U.S. Capitol, just a few doors down from the Senate chamber. He said that he and his crew asked their boss for the same safety equipment given their American counterparts. Instead, Diaz said, the boss responded by cutting the undocumented workers’ pay in half — at which point, Diaz and 11 others went on strike. Soon after, both the local police and immigration officers showed up to haul off the workers. The strikers were first taken to a local jail, then transferred to a federal immigration jail.

Fortunately, Diaz was a member of the New Orleans Congress of Day Laborers, which managed to get him and his co-workers released after four months behind bars. Since then, three of the 12 workers have been deported, one has died, and Diaz faces a deportation hearing scheduled for July 20. At least until then, he is trying to publicize the cause of workers who labor in dangerous conditions, who are compelled to work long hours for no extra pay, who get cheated altogether out of their paychecks and who have, in this nation of laws, no legal recourse.

Undocumented immigrants are just one among many groups of workers who effectively lack the on-the-job protections that most Americans take for granted. When the Fair Labor Standards Act, which established a national minimum wage and overtime pay, was enacted in 1938, it excluded restaurant employees and retail, domestic and farm workers. (Winning the votes of Southern senators required President Franklin D. Roosevelt to effectively exclude all occupations then largely filled by African Americans.)

In time, the act was expanded to cover some of those workers, but agricultural laborers still have no federal legal right to collect overtime, home healthcare workers have no right to the minimum wage and “tipped” workers such as waiters are entitled to a minimum of just $2.13 an hour. Nor are agricultural and domestic workers accorded the right to unionize under the National Labor Relations Act (though farm workers have won this right on the state level in California), and such low-paid independent contractors as port truckers and taxi drivers are similarly excluded.

As construction workers, the Diaz 12 actually came under the protections of wage, hour and unionization laws. But employers know they can violate these laws with impunity when their workers have no union contract and are undocumented. The odds are overwhelming that the outcome of such conflicts is worker deportation, not management fines. This de facto exemption of undocumented immigrants from the protection of workplace laws actually encourages employers to hire more undocumented workers. It is easy for management to ignore labor laws when employees can’t complain.

Last week, New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez and California Reps. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) and George Miller (D-Martinez) introduced legislation (the POWER Act) that would give workers like Diaz provisional “U visas.” The visas were designed to provide temporary legal status to immigrant victims who come forward to report violent crimes, and the proposed legislation would expand the protection to those who come forward to report workplace violations. Such legislation, Menendez pointed out, would not only protect immigrants but keep unscrupulous employers from lowering labor standards generally. “When some workers are easy to exploit,” Menendez said, “conditions for all workers suffer.”

That’s also the message that Diaz brought to the Capitol last week. “When I was in jail, I met many workers with stories like mine, but whose voices are never heard,” he said. “I made a promise to them that I would bring their stories out with me.”

Harold Meyerson is editor at large of the American Prospect and an op-ed columnist for the Washington Post.

Stiffing Working Stiffs

Stiffing Working Stiffs

June 22nd, health 2011 | NATHAN GILLES | Source: Wweek.com

Lawmakers could have acted to shield day laborers from bosses who cheat them out of wages. Instead they turned their backs.

Stiffing Working Stiffs

JOB SEEKERS: The day laborers’ lot at the Voz Workers’ Rights Project on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. – IMAGE: Darryl James

Antonio Sanchez says he worked long hours for Enrique Hernandez in June 2009.

Sanchez had been standing on the corner of Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. and Lloyd boulevards, order hoping for a day laborer’s job, when a man drove up and said his boss needed help. The driver took Sanchez to a site where Hernandez’s company, Henry’s Quality Underlayment, was ripping out carpet and putting down vinyl flooring.

Sanchez says Hernandez agreed to pay him $10 an hour, and that he worked long days—without lunch breaks—for four weeks at houses in Portland and Clatskanie. He says he was never paid $1,700 Hernandez owed him.

Stiffing Working Stiffs

D. MICHAEL DALE OF THE NORTHWEST WORKERS’ JUSTICE PROJECT Credits: Darryl James

Hernandez claimed Sanchez never worked for him. It was the driver who brought Sanchez to the site, he said, who had hired Sanchez. He didn’t owe Sanchez a dime.

“That’s when I decided to sue,” Sanchez says.

Sanchez says he was the victim of wage theft—when employers cheat their workers out of their pay. It’s a particularly big problem for immigrants and workers who take short-term jobs and often move from one employer to the next.

Wage theft can take many forms, from minimum-wage violations to cases like Sanchez’s, in which workers are promised money from employers who never deliver. A 2009 study by the National Employment Law Project, focusing on New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, found 1.1 million low-wage workers had been victims of wage theft, losing an average of about $2,600 from a $17,600 annual income.

In Oregon, the state Bureau of Labor and Industries, or BOLI, receives roughly 2,800 claims of wage theft each year.

Since 2000, the bureau has helped employees get back approximately $17 million in lost income.

But that’s little comfort for people like Sanchez.

“What happens in a typical case of wage theft is nothing,” says D. Michael Dale from the Northwest Workers’ Justice Project, a nonprofit legal service that helps immigrant workers fight wage theft. “It’s a huge problem. We are talking about millions of dollars of unpaid wages in the state of Oregon.”

Lawmakers had the chance to address the problem with five bills proposed by Dale’s group. But they caved in to business lobbyists. Democrats, after making a fainthearted effort to help workers, ditched the bills.

One measure, SB 611, would have helped workers like Sanchez by defining the employer-employee relationship, particularly for farm-labor and construction contractors. The bill died in committee after what Dale says was heavy lobbying from business groups.

“[SB 611] was just a very broad, far-reaching piece of legislation that would tremendously impact [the construction] industry,” said Jan Meekcoms, a lobbyist for the National Federation of Independent Business, who testified against the measure. She called Dale’s bills “extreme.”

The bill died. But another measure that would help people caught in Sanchez’s situation passed the Senate.

Hernandez, whose company did the work, claims he never met Sanchez. “I didn’t negotiate any wages when he started the job,” Hernandez tells WW. Instead, he says, the driver who picked up Sanchez, a man named Javier Galvans, should have paid Sanchez’s wages.

“I did not discuss wages, hours or other working conditions with Javier, rather only with [Hernandez],” Sanchez wrote in a Construction Contractors Board complaint.

SB 612 would have blocked employers from passing their responsibility to pay workers onto others. The measure requires day-labor drivers such as Galvans to register with BOLI as construction labor contractors. Bosses who get workers from unlicensed labor brokers would be on the hook for wages and civil fines.

The Senate passed the bill May 5 in a party-line vote of 16-13. Sen. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Northwest Portland), the bill’s carrier, said the measure would have “help[ed] to ensure workers receive the wages they are owed in an industry in which this has become a particular concern.” Republicans offered a different proposal that wouldn’t have made the contractor liable for the wages.

After that, the bill was orphaned in the House, where an even split between Republicans and Democrats means no bill gets a hearing without both parties’ agreement.

Since then, Bonamici says, she hasn’t pushed the matter any further. “I spoke on the bill because I was asked to carry it,” she says.

Dale says he hopes to build more support for his group’s measures in the 2012 session.

Meanwhile, Sanchez says he struggled to get by after he was denied his wages, and that his wife had to borrow money to pay bills. Last fall—more than a year after Sanchez did the work—the state contractors’ board worked out a settlement: Hernandez agreed to pay $1,000 of the $1,700 Sanchez says he was owed. Hernandez admitted no wrongdoing.

“I suffered a lot,” Sanchez says, “because he did not pay me what he told me he would pay me.”