Whether an employee agrees to lower pay or not, and no matter what a person's legal status may be, members of the South Texas Civil Rights Project said Wednesday, anyone working in the U.S. must get paid the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, as required by federal law. The group claims that TMs what three Brownsville businesses - Asian Buffet, Capistrano Tortilleria and BBQ and Car Wash Plus - failed to do.
Kelsey Snapp, attorney for Texas Legal Aid, represents four former employees at Car Wash Plus located on Paredes Road.
The workers were working 9 to 10-hour days but they were only getting paid when they were actually cleaning cars, Snapp said. However, they were required to be there the entire day."City Commissioner Jessica Tetreau tells Action 4 News, her husband owns the car wash but denies any of these allegations, and did not comment further. STCRP leader Hector Guzman Lopez said labor law violations are all too common in the Rio Grande Valley.
Most of the cases the group deals with, come from labor violations in the construction and restaurant business. Asian Buffet is one of the establishments also being sued, for allegedly paying former employee Alberto Ortiz just $3 to $5 an hour.
Ortiz claims he worked 12-hour days for eight months.
"Despite my boss being rude most of the time and telling me he couldn't pay me minimum wage because it was too much money, I kept working hard and doing my job well, Ortiz said. I just feel robbed."
Jorge Rubio is suing Capistran Tortilleria and BBQ. He said during his time there, he did most of the work - from food delivery to cleaning up at closing time. He also claims that when he finally asked for a helper, his employer stopped paying him.
"It affects you as a worker, it affects your family and it spreads in the community, Rubio said. It's depressing. It got to the point where we were being threatened to drop the lawsuits, but we are not."
Lopez adds it's a shame that after people fought so hard to end labor abuse in the 1930 TMs, it TMs still prevalent in our community.
"In this situation (the employees were getting paid) sub-minimum wages - very low, Lopez said. It is comparable to slavery. You're not being held against your will, but you TMre being paid miserable wages, or low wages. Even if an employee agrees to being paid less by an employer, legally, that is not binding at all. Minimum wage - there is no excuses - it needs to be paid."