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Workers’ Rights Center Wage Theft Program Gets “Game Changer” Grant From Forward Community Investments


FCI PromotionalForward Community Investments announced its second monthly $3,000 Game Changer grant winner: Madison-based Workers’ Rights Center. The grant will support the Center’s Wage Theft Monitor Program that operates in both Madison and Milwaukee.

“Wage theft is the biggest issue that we have identified in Wisconsin and in the US,” says Carlos Miranda, a lead advocate for the WRC. “Our workers are not being paid correctly, whether it’s intentional or not.”

The Workers Rights Center works with laborers to ensure they are paid the wages they've earned.
The Workers Rights Center works with laborers to ensure they are paid the wages they’ve earned.

The Wage-Theft Monitor Program will further the actions the WRC is taking to end wage theft, workplace discrimination, and workers’ compensation issues. Wage theft is defined as the failure of an employer to pay the agreed upon or legally mandated wage to a worker or workers. It’s an issue that disproportionately affects Latino workers; Miranda says WRC’s Latino Worker Project found that 43 percent of Latino immigrants reported experiences with wage theft in the Dane County area. The WRC has been fighting wage theft for the past ten years, and Miranda says in that time the WRC has assisted workers in collecting $1.5 million in unpaid wages.

The WRC’s Wage Theft Monitor Program will expand its work by engaging workers who have personally experienced wage theft as monitors and advocates in the community to spread awareness and share best practices about how they fought back.

The monitors will work with under-represented groups who don’t always have the assets to fight against workplace disparities. Miranda says many workers have been mistreated, but for a variety of reasons, a large portion hesitate to take action. There are economic fears, legal barriers, and the possibility of exposing undocumented immigration status which leaves workers wary of coming forward.

“Too many employers do not care about immigration status or proof of authorization,” says Miranda in his grant proposal video, “until workers raise their concerns in the workplace, like not being properly paid for hours worked. When that happens, employers will suddenly withhold pay unless workers can provide proof of documentation to legally work in the United States.”

In 2015, workers served by WRC were 86 percent non-white, and 60 percent only spoke Spanish.

The Worker’s Rights Center was founded as a non-profit organization in 2007 after operating under the umbrella of the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice. They still share offices and continue to partner on many campaigns, but separating has allowed each organization to pursue its’ unique mission with greater focus.

Through the Game Changer program, FCI makes the grant application process easier for small organizations that are responding to racial inequities in their communities. The application process consists of just one five-minute video — which could be just a cell phone selfie video — along with a one-page form. More than 50 organizations submitted videos for the first round of grants. What makes the program especially unique is that it’s not just a one-time award; instead, one $3,000 grant winner will be announced monthly throughout 2017.

In its capacity as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), Forward Community Investments builds stronger and healthier communities by providing loans, advising, and grants to mission-based organizations that address the root causes of racial inequities and socioeconomic disparities. FCI supports initiatives that improve equity and make positive change possible. Its vision is an equitable and inclusive Wisconsin built on cooperative social action. For more information about FCI, go to www.forwardci.org.