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Labor rights activists aim to educate Valley workers

Government officials said they are ready to step in if workers are not receiving the minimum rate of $7.25 an hour.

Leaders across the Rio Grande Valley are holding labor rights events to ensure residents know what rights they have as employees. This is so important because many of the organizations that we service are organizations that deal with at-risk workers. These are the workers that are the most vulnerable that don't have the resources to go out there and seek the help that they need. It's important for us to go out there and reach them on our own, said Coronado Carrizales with the U.S. Labor Department TMs Wage & Hour Division.

Government leaders in the Valley used this week to work with local organizations in an effort to educate residents about their rights as workers.

"We are committed. We are here to stand together with all of those victims," said Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez.

Local human rights group ARISE, said members of the organization see a lot of victims in the Valley.

A lot of our people, they don't know English or they don't know their rights," said ARISE Animator Maria Anzuara.

Fuerza del Valle Workers Center, a Valley organization created to support unprotected laborers, works with residents who have had their worker's rights violated.

Members of the organization said the Valley suffers from high poverty rates, and said wage theft is the reason why.

There is no typical case but there are patterns. We get a lot of restaurant worker complaints, and we get a lot of construction workers and domestic workers. And typical, very typical is 'I work, and the last two weeks I haven't been paid. And they told me they're not going to pay me. To do whatever I want, they're not going to pay me, TM said Fuerza del Valle Coordinator Hector Guzman Lopez.

Under Texas law, a business is stealing from workers when a person performs a service with a promise of payment from the business, but does not receive the full payment. Workers also have the right to work in a safe environment.

All workers have the same rights, whether it's a worker working for a company for 10 or 20 years, they have the same rights as a day laborer who has been working for a company for three hours. The employer shall provide a safe working environment," said Occupational Safety and Health Administration Investigator Saul Charles.

Government officials said they are ready to step in if workers are not receiving the minimum rate of $7.25 an hour.

"The message is clear, we will prosecute these cases. If the elements are met after a theft of services or wages, we will do everything in our power to prosecute these cases. And again, our job is to dispense justice," Rodriguez said.

If an employer is not paying a worker what they promised, officials said the employee must send their employer a letter demanding payment through certified mail with a return receipt. If no payment is received after 10 days, a complaint should be made to police.

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