Updated: Apr 19
This country has a long history of businesses and contractors who try to deprive workers of the protections and benefits they are entitled to under the law. Abuses are more rampant where immigrant workers are involved. Unscrupulous employers frequently use the threat of deportation to force workers into silence. This imbalance of power harms workers who toil in the shadows. Most workers are unaware of their rights. For example, many workers are not aware that DC has a minimum wage law that just increased in July 2015 to $10.50 an hour. Workers have rights to safe working conditions. Employers must comply with labor and human rights laws. Many DC immigrant workers do not know that they have free access to many medical services through the DC Alliance program which serves low-income District residents who not eligible for either Medicaid or Medicare. Finding brochures and user friendly pamphlets in Spanish and other languages are critical for workers who do not speak English. Bilingual TUWDC staff help explain the way labor laws work and provide support for workers who are afraid to come forward. The DC Office of Human Rights encourages workers to file discrimination complaints, but many workers do not understand how the process works. Despite the laws that protect workers rights, inadequate enforcement is often the sad reality. Given the immigration status, lack of English proficiency, and complex employment arrangements of sub-contractors, these low-wage workers have to organize to demand compliance with the law. Organizing for better treatment can produce results, but building relationships with labor and other stakeholders are critical to changing abusive economic structures.