Stories from immigrant workers in the Valley of the Sun: status, wage theft, recourse, and resilience
Wage theft is a national epidemic that only recently became the focus of increasing research, critical public questioning, and activism. Given the socio- political climate in Maricopa County, Arizona and the heightened national attention on the state, this study answers important questions about the work experiences of immigrant workers in the region. Through an analysis of interviews with 14 low-wage Mexican workers from a local worker rights center, I explore workers' access to traditional recourse, the effects of wage theft on workers and families, and the survival strategies they utilize to mitigate the effects of sudden income loss. By providing an historical overview of immigration and employment law, I show how a dehumanized and racialized labor force has been structurally maintained and exploited. Furthermore, I describe the implications of two simultaneous cultures on the state of labor: the culture of fear among immigrants to assert their rights and utilize recourse, and the culture of criminality and impunity among employers who face virtually no sanctions when they are non-compliant with labor law. The results indicate that unless the rights of immigrant workers are equally enforced and recourse is made equally accessible, not only will the standards for pay and working conditions continue to collapse, but the health of Latino communities will also deteriorate. I assert that in addition to structural change, a shift in national public discourse and ideology is critical to substantive socio-political transformation.