Workers Protest Wage Theft in Princeton, NJ

Demonstrators demanded the payment of salaries stolen from three Hispanic workers. (Photo via Reporte Hispano)

Demonstrators demanded the payment of salaries stolen from three Hispanic workers. (Photo via Reporte Hispano)

A group of pro-immigrant activists and members of the Hispanic community protested in front of a Princeton 7-Eleven store on March 24 to draw attention to the wage theft reported at that commercial establishment.

The demonstrators said that the store located at 259 Nassau St., which opened last November, not only paid some of its employees less than minimum wage but failed to pay for overtime hours. The protest referred to the case of three Hispanic residents of Princeton who filed a complaint against 7-Eleven in Superior Court.

According to attorney Roger Martindell, who represents the three workers, the plaintiffs have worked at the store since its opening, stocking merchandise on shelves and cleaning, among other tasks. They earned between $6 and $6.50 per hour, far below the $8.38 minimum wage that went into effect in New Jersey in 2015.

Moreover, the employees worked 12-hour shifts seven days per week. This qualified them for overtime, which requires the employer to pay an additional half-hour for every hour worked after 40 hours in one week. These wages were never paid to the employees.

The workers were also paid in cash, which prevented them from obtaining a detailed breakdown of their pay and deductions.

7-Eleven representatives deny committing any wage and hour law violations, saying that the workers signed documents in which they accepted to be paid the offered amount and to refrain from filing complaints against the company.

However, Martindell pointed out that the workers cannot read English. By law, this fact invalidates any document signed under those circumstances.

The lawyer said that the lawsuit not only covers the case of the three Hispanic workers but is also is part of a class-action suit filed in the name of all 7-Eleven workers in Central Jersey who suffered wage theft on the part of the company by paying below the legal limit and failing to pay for overtime.

María Charo Juega, director of the organization LALDEF (Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund), who organized the protest, said that wage and hour law violations are widespread in Princeton, particularly in the restaurant, construction and landscaping industries, where immigrants frequently work.

Although a municipal ordinance against wage theft was approved in Princeton in 2014, it only applies to landscaping companies, which risk losing their license to operate in that town if they do not comply.

While council members promised to expand the law to cover other sectors, no action has been taken so far.

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