Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Remembering the workers who toil without justice

By Jose Luis Aguayo and Ana Claudia Aguayo

The work at the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center reflects the teachings and values that remind all of us to do what is right. From a Judeo-Christian perspective, there are several excerpts from the Old Testament that speak about what is right. Some employers do not follow these teachings and may practice unscrupulous tactics that go unnoticed. The Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, informs us of how to treat workers, “You shall not defraud or rob your neighbor. You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your day laborer." (Lev. 19:13).

The Northwest Arkansas Workers Justice Center acknowledges that all workers do their part to create a thriving community. Thanks to our service led approach, the Center acts as a beacon of hope in our community. Workers who feel marginalized or oppressed due to unfair labor conditions have a safe space where they can reach out for help, information, and solace.

It has become a common practice for some unscrupulous employers to steal wages from their employees by using fear and intimidation tactics aimed at the most vulnerable of workers: low- income, immigrant workers. Many workers do not get paid, many workers are continuously employed under false pretenses, while other workers are threatened with jail or deportation if they attempt to seek payment for their work.

America’s work ethic and work history is grounded in our desire to achieve the American dream, a strength and force that push us to work diligently to achieve our aspirations. This country was founded with the principle that regardless of where you are from, we are all created equal with dignity and inalienable human rights. Our communities were built and founded by the hard work of our immigrant ancestors who desired prosperity and protection for future generations.

One goal we have at the Center is to ensure that all are united by our common desire to become contributors and citizens to this country. We ensure the success of this goal in several ways. We add value to our community through our hard work, while developing stronger communities. We continue to seek the pursuit of happiness. We operate under interfaith social and moral tenets. We uphold and value servitude by ensuring compassion as we fight for immigrant low-wage workers. We seek to empower workers with labor education by providing them with essential personal and professional workshops, and by equipping them with the tools necessary to protect themselves at work. Funding for these programs come in part from a grant given to the Center by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

The Center extends its hand to all community members wanting and willing to have dignity and respect at the workplace. We wish to implement right behaviors in our employers. They should not stigmatize workers based on looks, their national origin, nor should they use retaliation and fear to oppress workers.

This country is regarded as the land of opportunity, a place where we all contribute to its success and well-being. So the way this country treats new immigrants is a reflection of the values that created this country. People move to make their lives better for themselves and their families; it is an innate natural instinct that we possess and use to find safety and security. We all originated from diverse backgrounds. We have welcomed working individuals which day by day become contributing members to our communities. This Labor Day, let us remember the plight of those workers who toil without justice for their work.

Jose Luis Aguayo, Director of Programs and Finance at Northwest Arkansas Workers' Justice Center, and his sister, Ana Claudia Aguayo, Director of Development and Communications,  were  the 2013 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award winners.

Read Archbishop Wenski's 2014 Labor Day Statement.

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