Although Antonio Vanegas, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, has worked in food service at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C. for three years, his immigration status only recently came under scrutiny.
For the last several years, Antonio’s employer, Quick Pita, has been stealing his wages. They’ve used the standard tactics: paying less than the minimum wage and denying overtime pay.
Like many undocumented workers, Antonio found himself in a difficult position. He could silently suffer the injustice of wage theft or he could speak out and risk deportation.
Because Antonio works in a federal building, his employer is contracted by the U.S. government to provide food services on federal property. So in fact, our tax dollars are subsidizing Quick Pita, the very company that’s stealing Antonio’s hard-earned wages. Actually, the federal government subsidizes more low-wage jobs than Walmart and McDonald’s combined, according to a recent report from Demos.
In May, Antonio joined 150 workers who walked off their jobs to participate in a one-day strike led by Good Jobs Nation. Speaking at the event, Antonio publicly testified that Quick Pita stole his wages and demanded the government start acting like a “good landlord” by only contracting with employers who implement fair labor practices.
Just days after confronting his employer about their illegal labor practices, Antonio was detained at work by officers with the Federal Protective Service, a police unit within the Department of Homeland Security. He was subsequently held for four days and now faces an immigration hearing next month.
This December, Interfaith Worker Justice will honor Antonio for his bravery and leadership at our 2013 Award Celebration in Washington. It’s never easy to confront your employer, but it is especially difficult for undocumented immigrants like Antonio.
Today, House Republicans are meeting to discuss their strategy for immigration reform. If we want to protect immigrant workers like Antonio from abuse and retaliation, it is vital the House pass a bill that includes a pathway to citizenship.
(Blog | Interfaith Worker Justice, July 10, 2013)