Piñata-Makers Sue for Labor Violations

The original Spanish-language version of the following translation appeared in El Diario La Prensa and came from Mexican news agency Notimex:

Three Mexican immigrants filed a federal lawsuit in New York against their employer, which produces piñatas, in which they allege abuse, exploitation and dangerous working conditions.

If the women win the lawsuit, filed on March 8, they could get compensation of up to $300,000 for wage theft and overtime, with possible additional damages.

The women, who work for the company Balloons Party, say they were kept locked up in a basement which they described as humid, cold and narrow, and that they had to work in dangerous conditions, with chemical and flammable materials in a room without ventilation.

Verónica Domínguez, originally from Córdoba in the Mexican state of Veracruz, said that she worked at the company for almost a year from 8  in the morning until 9 at night without overtime pay.

“We are suing for lack of pay, and for honesty,” said Domínguez, who arrived in the U.S. 11 years ago. “They paid us $40 for a day of work.”

Domínguez, who has two children here and one daughter in Mexico, said she has had trouble sending money back because of her working situation. Her relatives asked her to change jobs, she said, but the crisis in the labor market made her stay.

“Many people talk very well about the United States, that one comes to earn money to send to Mexico, but now, it is costing a lot,” she said. “I wanted to have a better life, and I haven’t done anything yet.”

Artemio Guerra, a lawyer in the Catholic Migration Office who represents the workers, told the news agency Notimex that the lawsuit falls under the federal and state laws of minimum wages and overtime. The lawsuit also accuses the company of illegal dismissal and seeks damages for discrimination against one worker, Laura Vidal, who says she was fired because of a pregnancy.

“We want them to pay us for the work that we did, but we are also doing this because we want the reassurance that employers won’t take advantage of immigrant workers anymore,” said Vidal, who is from the state of Puebla.

María de Lourdes Díaz, who came from the state of Guerrero, was the one who sought help from the Catholic Migration Office, motivated by what she called “abusive working conditions.”

“The vapors of the chemical products and paint made us sick because there weren’t windows for ventilation,” said Díaz. “If someone opened the door of the basement, our boss would close it immediately.”

The Catholic Migration Office is a non-profit organization that provides free assistance to immigrant workers and works with the Department of Labor and the Latin American consulates, with headquarters in New York.

Domínguez said that she hoped women like her “don’t give up” and that there are always people who can help move them forward.

“Many times, one lets things pass because there isn’t work, and one endures it, but the important thing is that they treat us well,” she said. “This type of boss should not exist.”

Immigration status doesn’t have any impact on a worker’s right to receive minimum wage, overtime pay and freedom from discrimination and hostile working conditions.

“Unfortunately, wage theft for immigrant workers is something very common,” explained Guerra. “Recent studies report that one in three immigrant workers in the New York City economy has experienced wage robbery.”

The lawsuit, which was filed on March 8 in Brooklyn Federal Courthouse, was served to Arcadio Marín, the legal representative of the piñata factory.

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