Fe y Justicia (“Faith and Justice”) Worker Center is working to protect the rights of low-wage immigrant workers involved in the critical but often dangerous work of rebuilding Houston after Hurricane Harvey. Cleanup and construction can involve working in damaged buildings full of mold and other contaminants, exposing individuals to a number of health and safety hazards. The bulk of Houston’s post-Harvey reconstruction workers are what Fe y Justicia terms “second responders,” an important labor source for rebuilding damaged infrastructure but one that is vulnerable to exploitation by employers and contractors. Many of these workers lack documentation and work permits, along with bargaining power to negotiate fair wages and protections.
UUSC supports Fe y Justicia Worker Center’s occupational health and safety trainings for reconstruction workers, distribution of personal protective equipment, and Fe y Justicia’s newly reopened worker empowerment clinic to combat wage theft and other labor rights violations. A post-Harvey survey conducted by Fe y Justicia revealed that over a quarter of workers had experienced wage theft; further, virtually no one surveyed knew where to report wage theft, or safety and health violations.
The primary problem facing Fe y Justicia’s constituency is wage theft. They receive 20 to 30 calls per day about lost wages. In a 9-month period before Harvey, Fe y Justicia helped recover $70,000 in lost wages.