Led by a five-piece mariachi band, approximately 100 people marched through the Lower East Side last Wednesday, protesting local green grocers who pay employees less than the minimum wage. Gerardo Dominguez, a representative of the Mexican-American Workers Association, said the parade was “part of a larger campaign to put employers on notice that mistreatment of workers–including failure to pay the legal minimum wage and overtime wages–will not be tolerated.”
None of 40 neighborhood greengrocer employees interviewed in a recent survey said they made minimum wage.
Organizer Noah Zatz said the problem stems from an agreement between the US Department of Labor and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. If the DOL finds illegal immigrants while doing a wage inspection, they must report them to the INS. Said Zatz, “It's a huge deterrent to people who are afraid of the INS, because they know if they complain they're going to be reported.”
One neighborhood store owner blamed wages on bodega economics. “If I had some more business…” he said with a shrug.