July 29, 2011; Source: People’s World | The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) recently held its eleventh biennial convening of workers, labor organizers, community allies, elected officials and young leaders in Oakland, Ca. The convention highlighted the problem of wage theft by inviting workers to share their stories.

Eun Yan, who used to work in a Chinese restaurant said, “We had no minimum wage, no overtime, no breaks, no benefits.” She described her job as “difficult, dirty work,” with long hours and constant abuse from managers.

Yan stressed that “this doesn’t just happen to Chinese restaurant workers” and that the abuse is “widespread among all groups, and also affects domestic and construction workers. It hurts families, consumers and overall economic development.”

Che Wong also shared his experience with poor and abusive labor conditions. He had come to the U.S. with limited English proficiency and worked for a construction firm whose many projects were publicly funded. He was injured on the job but the company’s owner told him not to report the incident, promising to pay all of Wong’s expenses. He was fired three weeks later and subsequently learned that the company had cheated its largely immigrant workforce of most of its wages.

The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that more than 11 million unauthorized immigrants live in the United States. Their undocumented status makes them easy targets for bad recruiters and employers who count on the immigrants’ fear of disclosure. By coming out with tales of abuse, immigrants are helping themselves, and shedding light on the problem. Advocacy groups, like APALA, and other nonprofits advance the cause of these hard-working people by making sure their stories can be heard. – Erwin de Leon