Idaho low-income Hispanic workers get access to dispute hotline

adutton@idahostatesman.comMarch 14, 2014 

A hotline that began in Southern California to help workers report and resolve employment complaints is now available to workers in Idaho, the U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday.

The Employment Education and Outreach Program was created to "educate the Hispanic community about their rights and responsibilities," as well as educating employers, said Priscilla Garcia, director of public relations for the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division.

The centerpiece of the program is a hotline, 877-55-AYUDA (877-552-9832).

More than 9,400 workers in Southern California have received $14 million in back wages and $1.1 million in civil penalties from employers since the program started in 2004.

But the department recently decided to expand it to states in the Northwest, allowing residents of Idaho, Oregon and Washington to call the hotline and have complaints handled by the appropriate agency or agencies. It became available to Idahoans as of Thursday.

"We recently went to the state of Washington because we heard a lot of complaints from workers in Washington" such as women and children being raped, but they were not being officially reported "because of fear of government," Garcia said.

She said no such complaints have been raised by Idaho workers.

"What you hear is, 'We don't know who to call, and even if we do know, we're scared and intimidated — we're afraid we're going to lose our job,'" Garcia said.

The call center can handle more complicated issues that would require a worker to call several different agencies, she said.

"Let's say for example, I haven't been paid overtime, I fell off a roof because I wasn't wearing proper gear, and I don't have workers compensation — and I was discriminated against because I'm an older gentleman," she said. "That would go to four agencies" but take only one call to report, she said.

The program is now available to Idahoans through a collaboration with the Idaho Department of Labor, Idaho Community Action Network, faith-based groups, the Mexican consulate, workers' advocates, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other groups, according to the Department of Labor.

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