A Hard Life, Unfairness the Bastion of the California Undocumented Worker


San Francisco, CA: Julieta Yang’s voice is only one in the wilderness that is the undocumented worker in California. But the single mother of three who hails from the Philippines is an example of the challenges and hurdles faced by the undocumented worker in the state of California.

A sector, by the way, that is integral to the state economy. And yet, as important as they are, undocumented workers are maligned, ridiculed, often abused and frequently underpaid. It remains a sad reality that many employers show more kindness to their pets, forgetting that the undocumented worker is a human being.

According to The Guardian (11/15/15), Yang has been an undocumented worker for some 20 years. Separated from her children, who remain in the Philippines, Yang regularly sends money home to her kids in spite of barely making enough to live on herself.

Since 2008, Yang had been working for Uber executive Cameron Poetzscher and his partner Varsha Rao, head of global operations for Airbnb. Based initially in Singapore, Yang found herself in San Francisco when her employers relocated to the United States in 2013.

No longer employed by the couple, Yang is currently embroiled in a lawsuit against her former employers amidst allegations of abuse and a situation where she was chronically underpaid. “I served the whole family,” she told The Guardian. “I did their laundry, I cleaned their home. I did whatever they asked me to do at any time of the day…despite that, they treated me with great disrespect.”

Yang’s role was ostensibly as a live-in nanny in her employer’s San Francisco home. In her California undocumented worker lawsuit, Yang asserts she was paid a flat rate based on five hours of work per day. In reality, or so it is alleged, Yang toiled for nine hours per day for six consecutive days each week. Yang also alleges she was not provided regular meal breaks or rest periods, and was not paid overtime, amongst other allegations.

In her lawsuit, however, Yang faces an uphill battle in that her allegations are founded within the four walls of a private home in the absence of witnesses. Thus it comes down to her word against those of her former employers. Carole Vigne, an attorney and the director of the Wage Protection Program at the Legal Aid Society Employment Law Center in San Francisco, says the burden is on the worker to prove that the violations did occur.

“I’ve seen employers doctor time sheets and forge signatures of workers to disprove allegations of wage theft,” Vigne told The Guardian. “People go to extreme lengths to protect themselves from the allegations and the workers have to fight that.”

Yang has no idea what her future holds. But she feels an overriding need to speak out on behalf of all undocumented workers like her.

She has plenty of company.

According to a 2012 survey by the National Domestic Workers Alliance, 23 percent of almost 2,100 nannies, caregivers and housecleaners were paid below the state minimum wage, 35 percent worked long hours without breaks, and 19 percent reported being threatened, insulted or verbally abused. The survey shows that live-in domestic workers were even worse off, with 67 percent paid below the state minimum wage and 36 percent threatened or verbally abused.

Domestic workers routinely face wage theft, long work hours without rest, hostile work environments and sexual harassment on the job, according to Katie Joaquin the campaign coordinator for the California Domestic Workers Coalition. Immigrants can be even more vulnerable to exploitation.

It’s important for undocumented workers in California - a big part of the state’s economy - to fight back against abuse.

Yang’s voice is just one cry in the wilderness. She’s hoping her cry will grow to a chorus in due course.

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