The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.
Stories of Hope: Nelson Escobar
Workers’ rights are human rights. When workers are paid unfairly or treated poorly because of their race, language, or gender, it important to stand up for the rights of those people. Nelson Escobar, the chairperson of the Worker Action Committee at the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center (NWAWJC), has been the target of unfair treatment by employers himself and is now working to protect workers around Arkansas.
Northwest Arkansas is home to many industries that too often mistreat their workers. There are many poultry processing plants, hatcheries, and factory farms, and many people have jobs in construction, service, and agriculture. The state is also home to the fastest growing Latino and Marshallese population in the country. Poverty, immigration status, and language barriers make it easier for employers to treat their workers badly. Nelson and NWAWJC give workers the information and help they need to make sure their human rights and dignity are not ignored.
Nelson has a long history of witnessing injustice. He was born in El Salvador and lived there through the 12-year Salvadoran Civil War, which left almost 75,000 people dead and another 20,000 in tent camps with no food, water, medical care, or money. Nelson came to the United States seeking asylum, hoping to find justice and dignity after living through such a horrific experience.
He began working at a cleaning company in Arkansas but soon felt taken advantage of by his bosses. He approached NWAWJC to ask for help writing a letter in English demanding that he be treated fairly. The letter worked, and Nelson stayed involved with NWAWJC to help others seek justice. After spending time as a volunteer, he began working full-time to restore his community’s dignity as he was able to restore his own.
Workers in northwest Arkansas are often bullied by their employers into staying silent when they’re treated poorly. Many have families to support and cannot afford to lose their jobs, despite how low their wages are. People with undocumented immigration status are threatened with deportation unless they cooperate with their company’s unjust practices. Employers also take advantage of workers who don’t speak English by coercing them to sign their rights away. This allows companies to continue underpaying workers (a practice called wage theft), ignoring safety rules, refusing to pay people when they get hurt at work, and overlooking sexual harassment and even worse treatment within factories.
Nelson is teaching workers to demand the wages and the rights they deserve. NWAWJC offers training for workers to learn English, computer skills, workplace health and safety information, and more. Though he’s struggled with English himself, he leads by example and does not let language barriers stop him from standing up for himself and his community. With UUSC’s help, Nelson is empowering workers around Arkansas to speak up, regain control of their lives, and work together for justice.