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New York Times Profiles Workers Defense Project

Our partners at the Workers Defense Project were recently profiled in a fantastic piece by the New York Times.

Workers Defense Project is a statewide, membership-based organization that empowers low-wage workers to organize for better working conditions and fair compensation. More than 600,000 Texans are employed in the construction industry. The Workers Defense Project victories are impressive. Over the past 6 years they have successfully:

• Passed a statewide wage theft law that allows police to arrest employers who don’t pay their
workers

• Succeed in getting OSHA to launch a targeted federal investigation into Texas’ deadly construction industry

• Won the right to paid rest breaks for 50,0000 construction workers in Austin

• Created 5,000 good construction jobs with living wages,safe work environments, and training

• Built a statewide network of churches,community groups,and unions to engage in voter mobilization state and local policy issues

• Mobilized 30,000 Texans in support of comprehensive immigration reform

Here is a small excerpt from the New York Times pieces:

"The workers, most of them Honduran immigrants, had jobs applying stucco to the exterior of a 17-story luxury student residence. It was difficult, dangerous work, but that was to be expected. What upset them was that for the previous two weeks their crew leader had not paid them; each was owed about $1,000.

Ms. Zavala, the workplace justice coordinator at the Workers Defense Project, listened to their stories and then spent a month failing to persuade the contractors to pay the back wages. So Ms. Zavala, 27, a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the daughter of a Peruvian immigrant, turned to what she calls the nuclear option: the workers filed a lien on the building site. That legal maneuver snarls any effort to make transactions on the property and sometimes causes banks and investors to freeze financing.

The lien, along with a threatened protest march, quickly got the attention of the dormitory’s developer, American Campus Communities, and the general contractor, Harvey-Cleary Builders. Within hours, Harvey-Cleary arranged a meeting between the stucco contractor and the unpaid workers, and, presto, Harvey-Cleary and the contractor, Pillar Construction, agreed to pay the $24,767 owed to the workers.

“Liens are the very best tool workers have,” said Cristina Tzintzún, executive director of the Workers Defense Project. Instead of dealing with subcontractors, she said, “you’re negotiating with the project owner and general contractor. They can no longer shift responsibility and say: ‘I paid the guy downriver. It’s out of my hands.’ ”

The Workers Defense Project, founded in 2002, has emerged as one of the nation’s most creative organizations for immigrant workers. Its focus is the Texas construction industry, which employs more than 600,000 workers, about half of whom, several studies suggest, are unauthorized immigrants. "