November 20th marks “Latina Equal Pay Day,” the day when pay for Latinx women catches up to that of white men from the previous year. Latinx women only earn 0.53 cents for every dollar earned by white men in the US, a huge disparity finally being talked about. Latinx women typically work longer than other ethnic groups/genders and also earn less per hour than all women of other ethnicities including Asian, White, African American/Black and Native American.
It’s a known fact in North Carolina, that some employers take advantage of their undocumented workers, by withholding paychecks, not paying them the amount owed and other types of abuse. Employers know they can get away with it due to their Latinx employees’ fear of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). Who knows if Latinx women’s salaries are even reported accurately?
The media published stories in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence when migrant workers who were here on temporary visas were left stranded in flooded conditions in Snow Hill. Some workers didn’t even know a hurricane was in the forecast, and were left without food, water or aid. Everyone knows how bad the eastern part of NC floods during hurricanes, and a farm owner who employs farm workers should have been very aware, especially after Hurricane Floyd drowned millions of chickens and hogs in 1999. To me, not letting migrant farm workers know about an impending hurricane is the equivalent of homicidal negligence. The lack of communication just goes to show how much some employers in NC care about their employees.
It wasn’t too long ago a friend posted on social media about Latinx workers who were fired at a western NC restaurant because they pushed for back pay. They told their employer they needed the money due them, but instead of making arrangements, the employer called them names. The employer apparently used their immigration status against them and threatened to report them. I wonder how many incidents like this don’t make the news, aren’t tracked or don’t get reported? In 2019, we’re lucky to have social media as a tool to hold people and businesses accountable for their awful behavior.
I am also concerned about Latinx women and families who work low wage jobs in urban areas of NC. How are they able to survive? In Wake County, rent for a one bedroom apartment is commonly around $850-$1,000. Rent for families that need multiple rooms would be higher and rent often does not include water, electricity, natural gas, or renters insurance.
For those who cannot afford a car, the Wake County bus system is also not reliable. Some bus stops in Wake County don’t have shelters, so when it rains, riders are out in the weather. Some employees who work at the malls have also complained that they finish work at the malls around 9:20, but the bus doesn’t come until 40 or so minutes later. Workers have complained to those who regulate the bus system, but their complaints have not been resolved. Ride-share platforms like Lyft or Uber are options, but expensive and often complicated when folks have children with car seats and sometimes unsafe if drivers don’t obey all the traffic laws.
Health insurance is another issue for families. When my husband first came to this country for school, he had a school health insurance policy, but when he finished school, there was a period of time when he didn’t have coverage. It really wasn’t necessary for us to shell out money for health insurance for him in the US, since he visits his home country each year, and the cost for procedures, dental operation, and examinations there are SIGNIFICANTLY less than in the US.
I didn’t worry too much, at that time, about him not having health insurance because I was told only those with citizenship in the US were required to have health insurance under the Affordable Healthcare Act, but when we filed taxes the following year, I was told all green hold holders and permanent residents had to have health care in 2018 and was slapped with a $750 penalty. While that was hard, I often wonder how hard it was for Latinx families with multiple green cards holders who were not aware of this tax law. What should have been a tax refund for them, could have easily turned into taxes owed.
Grocery stores are packed with produce, brought to you by Latinx migrant workers who work in the fields to meet demand. Go into many restaurant kitchens in NC (regardless of the food served), and they’re staffed with Latinx workers who work long hours, for less wages, so you are able to enjoy a meal. These folks deserve equal pay, and better working conditions.
Making half the salary of a white man in 2019 just isn’t cutting it. Let’s work together for an equal pay day for all in North Carolina!
Nicki Faircloth is also called “vegetable soup” by her father because of her mixed identity as a person of Native, Hungarian, Mexican and various other bloodlines. She is also part of Women AdvaNCe’s Leadership Team.