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Immigrant workers get wages back

Immigrant workers get wages back

Published: March 21, 2013

The Chelsea Collaborative named Gabe Camacho the community's "Unsung Hero of the Year" for his dedicated work on the wage recovery effort between 2010-2012.

Photo: AFSC

Two and a half years, 1,000 brave workers’ complaints, and the collaboration of four economic justice organizations add up to a $649,000 settlement for immigrant workers in Massachusetts.

In May 2010, the Chelsea Collaborative, a multi-service community organization, contacted the American Friends Service Committee regarding an urgent labor problem. Apparently an industrial bakery in Woburn, Mass., had fired over 200 workers overnight. The labor organizer at the Chelsea Collaborative had few details, but it was clear that the mass firing had to do with immigration status. 

As more details emerged, it was became clear that a national corporation bought the local company and decided to re-verify the employment eligibility of all workers, including those who had been working for the company for many years.

Two hundred workers were told that they would no longer have a job at the bakery if they could not prove employment eligibility.

AFSC and Jobs with Justice offered
workshops for the bakery workers
shortly after the mass firing.

AFSC’s Gabriel “Gabe” Camacho, coordinator of Project Voice in Cambridge, was asked to conduct a number of workshops on labor rights and employment eligibility verification systems. He provided basic information on these problematic verification systems and explained remedies and options for the affected workers.

During the course of the labor rights workshops, Gabe and his partners from Massachusetts Jobs with Justice discovered anecdotal evidence that many of the workers were not paid the prevailing minimum wage or overtime pay. They also found out that the bakery had used a temporary-work agency to partially staff some of the production shifts. These “temp workers” had another set of issues common to temp agency labor forces including illegal paycheck deductions.

Chelsea Collaborative and the Greater Boston Legal Services partnered to assess the scope of labor violations and developed a legal strategy to redress the violations of labor law.

The first step was to hold “in-take days,” during which volunteers took down information from more than 200 former bakery workers. The intake forms documented basic employment facts such as wage rates, number of years worked, and number of hours worked per week. 

The Greater Boston Legal Services and the affected workers decided to file wage violation complaints with the Fair Labor Division of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, the office responsible for enforcing Massachusetts laws, including state labor law (MGL Chapter 149).

On Nov. 20, 2012, affected immigrant
workers held a press conference to
celebrate the wage-recovery victory.

During the litigation and discovery process, it became clear that the initial 200 workers represented only the tip of the iceberg. 

In November 2012, two and a half years after the initial firing, a financial settlement was agreed upon by the Attorney General’s Office, the temp agency who had hired the workers directly, and CSM Bakery, formerly known as Titterington’s Olde English bake Shoppe, Ltd. The $649,000 settlement will benefit more than 1,200 workers.