Filipinos joined hundreds of fellow community members in Long Beach in a Labor Day march to call for stronger workers’ and immigrants’ rights.
The May 1 march was organized by the May Day Long Beach Coalition, an umbrella of 19 local organizations, that includes the Filipino Migrant Center (FMC), Anakbayan Long Beach, and Gabriela Los Angeles. It started from MacArthur Park and ended at the City Hall.
The marchers carried a Philippine flag and an FMC banner calling for an end to wage theft and the funding of the wage enforcement bureau.
In 2014, the FMC along with other community organizations formed the Coalition to End Wage Theft in Long Beach to call for stronger enforcement against wage theft and an end to the act of employers stealing of wages from workers, in the city.
The FMC noted that the most common forms of wage theft Filipino workers experience include unpaid hours, missed rest and meal breaks, and late paychecks.
The Long Beach City Council voted last January to raise the minimum wage in the city to $19 per hour by 2019, with an option to increase it to $15 by 2021. Since the vote, the council has yet to draft the new ordinance, which organizers assert must include language on how to enforce the law.
“We cannot raise the minimum wage without the city creating a local wage enforcement office. Otherwise, there will be no teeth to ensure that employers actually pay the new minimum wage,” said FMC’s Nikole Cababa.
Filing a wage claim with the California Labor Commissioner’s Office takes years due to the severe backlog of cases and understaffing across the state.
Few wage theft victims ever get their back pay under the current system. In addition, organizers expressed concern over the Long Beach City Council’s proposed “training wage” policy that would be tacked on to the minimum wage increase.
This proposal deems that newly hired workers in an industry would be paid only 85% of the minimum wage for a probationary period of 180 hours to as long as 480 hours.
“The ‘training wage’ is essentially legalized wage theft. It’s a crime to pay below the minimum wage, and a ‘training wage’ would only perpetuate the problem,” said Cababa.
Youth workers and newly arrived immigrant workers are expected to be most vulnerable to exploitation from the training wage, Cababa added.
“What would prevent employers from constantly hiring and firing new workers before their probationary period is over? It only creates a loophole for squeezing more profits from new workers who do the same amount of work as their co-workers,” she stressed.