Call center to help Central Valley Latinos address workplace violations

Spanish-speaking workers in the Central Valley looking for guidance on labor violations can now call a hotline that will put them in touch with experts ready to help them better understand federal and state labor laws.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division is offering the innovative program, called Employment Education and Outreach (EMPLEO), which provides a Spanish-language call center for work-related issues. EMPLEO is a partnership of federal and state agencies, nonprofits and consulates from Mexico and Central and South America.

EMPLEO has been assisting Latino workers in Southern California since 2004 and is expanding into the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys. The aim is to help workers vulnerable to exploitation, said Priscilla Garcia, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Labor Department.

In 2014, the Labor Department’s Sacramento office completed 399 investigations affecting 2,810 employees, in which they recovered more than $3.3 million in back wages. It also assessed over $219,000 in penalties. Many of the violations were in hospitals and nursing homes, Garcia said.

She said the center, which began operation Tuesday, has already helped many workers statewide, many of whom would otherwise avoid contacting governmental entities when they need assistance.

“People are afraid of government ... whether it’s because of their status as an undocumented worker or from a general fear of not knowing where to go when you have a work problem,” she said.

Spanish-speaking representatives contact communities who could use the service, with the hopes of helping people overcome fears about tapping government aid, she said.

“When we take a call, we refer it to the proper agency so that the caller does not have to deal with the runaround that happens when you get bounced from agency to agency,” Garcia said.

The EMPLEO call center can be reached at 877-552-9832.