More and more, undocumented workers in the Triangle rely on protests and legal complaints to reclaim stolen wages.

Those tactics are working.

Days before Christmas, twenty Latinx workers formerly employed by a Durham construction company received settlement checks that totaled $13,352 in unpaid wages. 

That victory comes two months after a group of Hampton Inn workers in Mebane and immigrant cleaners in Greensboro reached a confidential settlement following their own claims of stolen wages, according to Siembra NC, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of Latinx residents in Durham, Orange, Forsyth, Randolph, and Guilford Counties.

Throughout 2019, Siembra NC says it helped workers recover $45,000 in unpaid wages. In each instance, the workers’ efforts to recover their stolen money was not without peril.

“All of the workers involved were subject to threats by management, some involving their legal status,” according to Siembra NC.

The advocacy group says these campaigns are happening “because the state Department of Labor under the leadership of Cherie Berry,” the current labor commissioner, “is notoriously unwilling to aggressively investigate claims of wage theft.”

State labor spokeswoman Dolores Quesenberry told the INDY she would look into the issue.

When state labor officials do investigate those claims, advocates say, they do so only for W2 employees but not for the verbal contracts at issue in the Durham, Mebane, and Greensboro cases. State labor officials seem willing to overlook the fact that verbal labor contracts are legally binding under state law, according to Siembra NC.

Wage theft in North Carolina is pernicious and costly, especially for low-income workers.

A 2017 report found that $316 million is stolen each year from North Carolina workers.

Several U.S. cities have taken steps to hold employers accountable for stealing wages. Minneapolis and El Paso have criminally indicted employers who rip their workers off. This year, legislators in Colorado and Minnesota passed new laws that make wage theft a felony.

The Durham workers—who are mostly undocumented—were employed by Home Hitters Inc, a residential and commercial cleanup company. The workers launched several months of protests after not being paid for work they completed in February and March.

Siembra NC says that on October 12, after the workers were “ignored and even threatened by the company,” a dozen of them, along with members of the Durham Workers Assembly, marched to a Home Hitters cleaning site to hand-deliver a letter demanding compensation for their labor. Shortly afterward, Demetrius Liverman, the company’s chief executive officer, called Siembra NC to begin negotiations.

But when talks stalled, the workers took to the streets again, showing up at Liverman’s Top Dog hot dog stand at Southpoint Mall. The workers’ supporters contacted the mall’s management office and plastered leaflets throughout the retail center to send the message that they weren’t going anywhere.

That prompted a “productive settlement negotiation” from Liverman, who agreed to pay the workers 95 percent of their stolen wages. They finally received their settlement checks five days before Christmas.

Liverman could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.

One of the former construction cleanup employees, Nelly Ysleno, first contacted Siembra NC after receiving a pamphlet about wage theft in the parking lot of Compare Foods in South Durham. Ysleno says she and her fellow workers had worked hard for the company and did not expect to ever see the money they were owed.

“There were many times when I thought this is just not going to happen, but we remained strong,” Ysleno said in the Siembra NC press release. 

And as for receiving an unexpected check over the holidays?

“This feels really great,” Ysleno says.

Correction: This story originally said that workers in Mebane had won repayment of more than $31,000. In fact, they reached a confidential settlement. That number was calculated by subtracting the more than $13,000 the Durham workers had won from the $45,000 Siembra NC had helped area workers recoup throughout 2019; there were, however, other cases. The INDY regrets the error. 

Contact Thomasi McDonald at

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