The Carrboro Board of Aldermen took a step forward Tuesday night in potentially criminalizing employment violations against day laborers.
The board unanimously approved a motion calling for the town’s staff to look into options to crack down on employers who don’t compensate day laborers.
Federal and state statutes do not criminalize wage theft, which might provide a loophole for employers to withhold payment to laborers, according to attorney Robert Hornik, who stood in for town attorney Michael Brough on Tuesday.
“The goal is to make employers apprehensive,” said Rafael Gallegos, assistant director for the Chapel Hill and Carrboro Human Rights Center, in a post-meeting interview.
Carrboro’s day laborers often gather across from Abbey Court Condominiums, Gallegos said.
“One of the things they keep talking about is that sometimes they don’t get paid for anything, even after working for a month,” he said. “It’s hard for them to call the Department of Labor because of a sense of fear.”
Gallegos said the demographic of Carrboro’s day laborers, who are primarily Hispanic, is becoming more diverse because of the economic recession.
“Carrboro is doing much more than most places. That’s why we are confident here,” he said. “This is a great first step. It’s very difficult to have cities that are supportive. It’s a big problem nationwide.”
Mayor Mark Chilton said labor violations are even more important as the amount of wages lost increases.
“Amounts of money at stake can sometimes be very large. The labor section should prioritize the cases,” he said.
Alderman Joal Hall Broun suggested the board refer the issue to the town staff for further consideration.
Judith Blau, director of the Human Rights Center, said Chapel Hill and Carrboro are two of five U.S. cities to adopt a human rights doctrine.
Gallegos said it is especially difficult when day laborers are withheld pay after working in extreme weather conditions.
“A lot of people ask me, ‘Why don’t I get treated like a human?’” Gallegos said.
Alderman Jacquie Gist said it is not fair to have the town’s police profile employers that hire day laborers when the police do not check immigration status.
“It sends a negative message about our police department,” she said. “I think we want to help. We just have to structure things so we can help.”
Hornik suggested that the board go into closed session before moving forward. But the board did not offer a timeline for any formal action at the meeting.
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