Attorney vows fight for money owed to workers
BY CLARE MARIE CELANO
Staff Writer -- 10/21/03
News-Transcript -- Colts Neck, New Jersey
Freehold Twp., NJ - Even illegal aliens have rights in this country.
At least 15 illegal Mexican immigrant laborers were assured of that fact by local attorney Ron Reich.
Reich arranged an Oct. 8 meeting at the Broad Street office of Cecilia Reynolds, publisher of the local Spanish language newspaper Nosotros, in response to Reynolds' reports to him of numerous complaints from immigrant workers who claimed they had not been paid by local employers. Some of the workers claim to be owed as much as $2,000. The average amount of money owed was about $800.
Some of those who say they are owed money came to Reynolds' office to learn what they can do to collect the funds.
Reynolds previously had the men fill out a form listing their name and the of the name of their employer, the dates of work and the amount money they had earned but had not yet been paid.
Reynolds told Reich she had been approached earlier in the day by two young immigrant workers who told her they had just seen the employer who owed at least 20 men a total of about $15,000. They told her the landscaper told them over and over that he would "pay them tomorrow."
Tomorrow never came for them, at least not where their paycheck was concerned.
In addition, Reynolds said the men told her this particular employer made a habit of picking up day laborers, giving them work, not paying them and then returning to the area of Throckmorton Street that is a pick-up zone for many immigrant workers to start the process all over again.
Reynolds contacted the landscaper and said he told her he would pay the men soon. She said he told her he would contact her about the issue later that day. Reynolds said he never called back.
During the Oct. 8 meeting, Reich, with the help of Reynolds' translation, told the men he would get their money for them.
"Some people might think that you will not do anything about this. You have nothing to be afraid of," he told them. "You have done nothing wrong. It is your employers that are to blame.
Reich said he would either call or send a letter to each employer cited on a master list he had been working on to tell them he wanted payment.
"If they refuse to pay," the attorney said, "then I will bring a civil lawsuit against them in Superior Court on your behalf and I will make sure the lawsuit gets published in the newspaper."
Reich said he would represent each worker in court if it becomes necessary to do so.
"I am angry now," he told the men.
Reich told the workers they had the right to be paid for the work they had done and that if those who had employed them did not pay them, he would "march each and every one of you up to the witness stand to testify."
One man told Reynolds to tell Reich, "We could let this go if it were only us. But it isn't fair and we worry about the next people who will have to go through this."
"It is up to you and the rest of your friends not to work for these guys," Reich said. "Tell your friends this."
Reich assured the men and Reynolds that he would "see this through" and get the money the men said they had earned.
Concerns about the borough's stated intention to close the employment muster zone on Throckmorton Street were also discussed at the meeting.
Reich told the men he was concerned for the future of their ability to work in the town and said he would attend the Nov. 3 Borough Council to discuss the matter with municipal officials.
"Closing down the muster zone is not the answer. You'll still need to work and you'll still need somewhere else to go to get this work," Reich told the men.
Reynolds told the workers the muster zone was only meant for Freehold Borough residents.
Reich added that the situation had "gotten out of control."
Mayor Michael Wilson said in a press release that the muster zone has become a destination for residents of other towns who now come to Freehold Borough to wait for employment. The mayor said the area has become filled with litter.
Reich said the workers are filling a need in the community by working jobs that other people did not want.
"If all of you packed up and went home tomorrow, the lawns here would all be brown, there would be no one to wash dishes in the restaurants. Everyone would be asking what happened to the people who used to do these jobs." he said.
"Oh," Reich said, answering his own question, "That's right, we chased them all out of town."
Reich said he initially became involved with the immigrant population after reading stories in the News Transcript that dealt with issues affecting the workers. He said he is committed to helping them now because of his admiration for Reynolds and her work with the immigrant community.
"Besides," Reich added, "her spirit and her desire to help is contagious."