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Minneapolis Construction Workers Fight To End Rampant Wage Theft

Construction workers in the Twin Cities are organizing to create the Building Dignity & Respect Program.

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Video produced and edited by Sam Delgado, Libby Rainey, and Ian McKenna

Construction workers in Minneapolis are taking on developers to stop rampant wage theft. Workers tell us they’re owed up to $110K in stolen wages and that developers use citizenship status to bully them into staying silent. Workers are fighting to end this abuse and start the Building Dignity & Respect Program. Below is a full transcript of the video.

Pedro Carbajal: I can’t fill my tank with happiness. I can’t put food on the table with happiness. I can’t pay rent with being happy. My bills don’t get paid with happiness. What I’m saying is my economic problems don’t solve themselves by being happy and calm in the middle of the storm. My economic problems are only resolved when someone stops stealing my wages.

In the construction industry, wage theft is rampant. These workers in Minneapolis are coming together to change that.

[Press Conference]: I’m owed about $110,000 because of wage theft.

Mario Rolando Segura Salazar: One of these people owes me around $53,000. In the second instance, I’m owed around $33,000. Between those two cases, I’m owed about $86,000. We know we won’t change this industry just by targeting just one company. So these developers need to work with us to put an end to wage theft and the other abuses in the construction industry.

A recent study found that 23% of construction workers in Minnesota experienced some form of wage theft. That’s nearly a quarter of all workers in the industry.

Pedro: That’s money that is already accounted for in our families’ plans, including for plans for the future. And wage theft can destroy all of that.

Mario: There’s no way to save money or build up credit when we’re always having to fight over pay. Or, if I do have money today, and I get my wages stolen again, I have to use my savings to make ends meet.

In 2019, Minnesota passed some of the strongest legislation against wage theft in the country. But in non-union construction jobs, workers have continued to see their wages stolen and not paid in full. 

Now these construction workers have organized with the worker center CTUL—Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha—to launch a program to hold developers accountable and create industry-wide change. It’s called the Building Dignity and Respect Program.

Pedro: This is a program that CTUL implemented to guarantee construction workers some support. That’s the goal of the program, to give us workers the security, respect, and support that we need.

[Press Conference]: Under the Building Dignity and Respect Program, participating developers sign a legally binding agreement to hold to certain human rights standards on their projects. This code of conduct, which is informed by the lived experiences of workers in the Twin Cities, construction workers, includes workers protections from wage theft, physical and sexual abuse, human trafficking, as well as access to safe working conditions and fair pay. If a contractor refuses to maintain compliance, they will no longer be able to work for developers that participate in the Building Dignity and Respect Program.

Pedro: To me, the program is like a gut punch to all those contractors who exploit and benefit from

cheap manual labor. 

The Building Dignity and Respect Program requires developers to sign on to the program guaranteeing workers basic rights and a seat at the table about workplace issues. The program is modeled off of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program in Florida, which has successfully campaigned fast food giants McDonald’s, Burger King, and more to sign on to a code of conduct for farmworkers.

Pedro: If we are going to speak to developers, it’s because we know they have the ability and the power to stand with us. We’re not obligating them or pressuring them, we’re just asking for solidarity, to be an ally to the Building Dignity and Respect Program so that they are aware of what is happening on their jobsites, because otherwise they won’t know.

Without these basic protections, workers say recovering lost wages is extremely difficult and that companies often use immigration status as an intimidation tactic to avoid paying what they owe.

Mario: They’ll send their lawyers out and their lawyers will come and threaten someone. They know our citizenship status in this country and they want to use that to intimidate us so we’ll stay quiet and just not press the issue.

Pedro: They’ll tell us, “No, if you’re undocumented, no court will hear you out.” “They’re just going to reject your case.” “I’m the one who has the rights, not you.” “Because you’re undocumented, you’re forgotten and not recognized by our legal system.” So that’s how the intimidation begins on their part.

Organizers have reached out to developers in the area to ask that they sign on to the program. They’ll continue to ramp up pressure on employers to join.

Pedro: The program gives us a bit of security and the ability to go to work without constantly worrying whether or not they’re going to pay me.

Daniel Sanchez: I want them to see that they can’t abuse the worker and that the worker deserves respect. And I think, together, we can make that happen.

Mario: I think, as an immigrant without legal status, I need to speak up about this so that other people like me—undocumented immigrants—aren’t afraid and are able to raise their voice, as well, so that this gets bigger every day and with the help of God, and CTUL, and the Building Dignity and Respect Program, and the unity of all these workers, we can have a better quality of life in this country.

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