"Searching for bread for our children': Wage theft among Latin American immigrant women living in Wichita, KS
AdvisorDemovic, Angela R.
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Wage theft occurs when employers don’t pay their workers at least minimum wage and correct overtime compensation (Bobo 2011:6). Even though undocumented immigrants have illegally entered the United States and employers who hire them are violating the law, two federal courts have ruled that all workers have the right to be paid according to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), regardless of immigrant status. However, many undocumented Spanish-speaking immigrants are reluctant to file claims for stolen wages for a variety of reasons. Their primary concerns are job loss and deportation. Several studies have noted that more men from undocumented Spanish-speaking communities file claims for stolen wages than do women from these communities. I have found no good reason to believe that working Spanish-speaking immigrant women experience wage theft less often than their male counterparts. Instead, I believe these women face more barriers to filing claims for stolen wages. Interviews with ten Spanish-speaking immigrant women revealed various levels of fear of job loss and various attitudes regarding the difficulty of finding a new job, if they were fired. Six of ten participants worried how they would support their children if they lost their jobs as a result of filing a claim for stolen wages. García and Oliveira note that Mexican women from a variety of social classes “consider motherhood as their main source of identity” (García and Oliveira 1997:382). Thus, for a woman, whose primary identity is that of a providing mother, risking her job and possibly getting deported are at odds with feminine constructions of responsible motherhood. Several informants suffered for months and years under psychologically abusive managers and bosses. Catalytic events are powerfully emotional events that transform undocumented workers who were previously willing to put up with labor abuses, such as verbal abuse, unsafe working conditions, or wage theft, into persons who are no longer willing to tolerate such abuses. These events allowed Spanish-speaking immigrant women to reach a threshold at which they are not longer willing to suffer labor abuses in order to preserve their jobs and identities as providing mothers. After these catalytic events they were able to push past fears of job loss and deportation in order to file claims for stolen wages and preserve personal dignity by asserting their rights as workers who contribute to the US economy.
Thesis (M.A.)--Wichita State University, Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Dept. of Anthropology