Cerritos College
Cerritos College • Norwalk, Calif.

Talon Marks

Cerritos College • Norwalk, Calif.

Talon Marks

Cerritos College • Norwalk, Calif.

Talon Marks

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All work, no pay

Peter Walsh
Protestors marching at a wage theft rally in front of the New York State Department of Labor on Oct. 15 2014.

Work hard and you’ll be rewarded with greater wages – at least, that’s what we’re told by American culture. For many millions of American workers, however, back-breaking work for little to no pay is a constant terror – you may even have your wages stolen.

“There’s a lot of people out there that work really hard, but their job doesn’t pay them enough for the amount of work they’re doing – that’s pretty common I feel like in the United States. There are also some jobs where you’re doing less work and you’re making bank,” said Gabriel Gutierrez, a college student and worker who believes he’s experienced wage theft.

Wage theft, to put it shortly, is when your employer doesn’t pay you what you’re legally entitled to.

According to The Coalition For Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, there are many different ways that wage theft occurs – employers not paying at or above minimum wage, employers refusing to tell or let employees know that they’re allowed to take breaks, not paying employees for breaks, bouncing checks, not paying employees overtime, not paying employees on time, not giving employees earned bonuses, employers illegally deducting pay, etc.

These stolen wages are especially important as the minimum wage in California is $16, but the federal minimum wage is only $7.25. Furthermore, according to Bankrate, a personal finance advisor, only 44% of Americans would be able to cover a sudden expenditure of $1,000 – a worrying sign of Americans’ financial health.

According to data collected from the Economic Policy Institute by CalMatters, Californian workers who experience wage theft, tend to have about $4,250 stolen from them a year – a life-changing sum for many Americans.

Gutierrez, a construction, management and engineering major at Cerritos College, who works for a local parks and recreation department, said that he experienced wage theft for a year after being hired.

Gutierrez opted not to share the city for sake of anonymity.

His supervisors told him that if a city has a certain amount of employees on payroll, then California will allow them to pay below minimum wage.

NO BREAKS by anahi


However, according to California’s Department of Industrial Relations, there is no law that confirms what he said, but there are exemptions that may cover what he’s saying.

Nevertheless, in a survey conducted by Verfico, a company which provides tools to workers and companies, in 2023, 20% of respondents in the construction industry reported having their wages stolen, and 29% know someone who has.

“Wage theft is very prevalent in our country,” said Yunuen Trujillo, an attorney that practiced immigration law for four years, is an immigrant herself and a daughter of immigrants.

Wage theft is an issue which occurs throughout all levels of the American economic system, but is most common in immigrant and low-wage worker sectors.

When Trujillo had arrived in the U.S. she had realized that her mother suffered through a ton of labor violations. Since Trujillo’s mother is an immigrant she felt that she went through all of these violations because she didn’t feel that she could trust and report anything to anybody.

Trujillo works for CHIRLA, a once-local nonprofit which now operates on the national level and is focused on protecting the rights of immigrants.

This same story applies to millions of people in the U.S., especially Low-wage workers and immigrants, who lack the power or information to stand up to their employers.

Angelo Serrano, a kinesiology major, worked at a well-known sandwich shop in three different locations for the same company as a driver and cashier; this was in La Palma, Lakewood and Hawthorne.

“I would treat my customers with respect – I would treat them very nicely, and I would get tipped a lot,” Serrano said, “I think you should be able to get some kind of gratuity.

“I would think, at the end of three weeks, I’ll get a tip, but, unfortunately it just all goes to the general manager and the general manager did not treat me the right way so I did end up leaving,” Serrano added.

“At the time, I didn’t really care, but as I got older, I started to understand that money is very valuable,” Serrano said.


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About the Contributors
Andrew Pilani
Andrew Pilani, Staff Writer
Andrew Pilani is an inquisitive staff writer for Talon Marks covering politics and general goings on. He’s interested in investigative journalism and exposing public corruption. Outside of journalism, Andrew spends his time being a guinea pig for his cosmetologist brother, perusing his 3k+ music playlist, and keeping up with schoolwork. “It'll be done in time,” were his last words before missing a deadline.
Anahi Villalobos- Cruz
Anahi Villalobos- Cruz, Staff Writer
Anahi Villalobos-Cruz is a staff writer for Talon Marks covering arts and entertainment and community news. Outside of reporting she enjoys listening to music, watching baseball and going to the cinema to watch new films. She hopes to transfer to New York University or to a university in Hawaii and become an accountant.
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