Home FOREIGN Inside a ‘lawless jungle’ of worker exploitation after Hurricane Harvey

Inside a ‘lawless jungle’ of worker exploitation after Hurricane Harvey

Damage from Hurricane Harvey is still seen as work continues on the MainStay Suites on Tuesday, July 31, 2018, in Ingleside. Nearly a year after the hurricane, repairs to the hotel are still not finished. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)



After major storms move past towns and cities, some residents brace for another damaging presence: predatory profiteers.


More than a year after Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas, many workers who were part of the cleanup effort say they still haven’t been paid. Meanwhile, the state failed to implement even the most basic defenses against wage theft ahead of the storm.

That’s according to a new investigation from James Barragán, a reporter at The Dallas Morning News and a member of our 2017-18 class of Reveal Investigative Fellows.

Here’s what he found:

* A lack of outreach: About three-quarters of the day laborers who worked on post-Harvey recovery efforts were immigrants, according to a survey by local labor groups. Of those, many were undocumented, which makes them easier to exploit. None knew that, regardless of their immigration status, they could seek help from the Texas Workforce Commission, which is in charge of investigating wage theft – and more than 92 percent couldn’t name a single organization that could help recoup unpaid wages.

* A pass-the-buck mentality: Tracking down lost wages can be difficult, even for workers who don’t fear consequences related to their immigration status. Contractors routinely blame subcontractors, who in turn blame other subcontractors. It’s a confusing and frustrating system for any worker to navigate.

* An inefficient system: When workers file claims with the state, it often takes months before they find out whether they won their case. And if they win, it could be several months before they collect their pay. Some never do.

* Fear of retaliation: This keeps many workers from fighting for their unpaid wages, advocates say – especially the estimated half of construction workers who are immigrants without authorization to be in the U.S.


Source. Center for investigative reporting (Weekly Reveal)



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