A week after Documented first reported allegations made by three immigrant women who said they were not paid for work they did at the U.S. Open, the workers announced that they were finally being paid back wages, which they were owed for a year.
Cecilia Valdés, who worked at the U.S Open in 2021, was in awe of how quickly she was able to be paid with the help of NICE, after a year of trying on her own. It was the first time she has ever engaged in political action in her life.
“I feel so good today receiving the salary that we are owed,” she said. “I worked, but I didn’t work for free. This triumph makes me feel more active and makes me feel this is something we can continue in the future.”
For over a year, Valdés and two of her co-workers, Maria and her sister Luz, have been trying to receive over $4,500 in back wages that were owed to them when they worked as food preparers during the U.S Open 2021 season. However, the women found it difficult to track down who exactly was responsible for paying them. The U.S Open had subcontracted catering out to Levy Restaurants, a restaurant and hospitality company with numerous wage theft accusations.. In turn, Levy hired another subcontractor, Event Aces, to handle the recruitment of workers. Whenever the women contacted any of the companies involved, they found that the companies were shifting responsibility to each other.
“They are all playing games with each other and sending them from one person to the next and that’s not getting them their payments,” Sara Feldman, Worker and Immigrant Rights Director for NICE, said. Feldman is helping the U.S. Open workers recover their stolen wages.
At NICE’s offices, which were jam-packed with Venezuelan migrants who were recently bussed to New York from Texas and were looking for assistance, the three women received their individual checks that totaled $4,600, $100 more than they were asking for. According to NICE, the checks were cut by Event Aces, under pressure from the USTA. Neither the USTA nor Even Aces responded at the time of publication.
When Maria received her check, she was filled with a familiar sense of joy.
“When they told me they were going to pay I got very happy,” she said with a smile that glowed in her eyes. “ It was like when I got my visa in Colombia, I had the same reaction.”
Karen Vargas, NICE’s Workers’ right Coordinator, believes that the victory for the workers will be an inspiration for the entire community.
“This victory means a lot for the immigrant community because often we feel we are not people here in this country,” she said. “ I think this restores the sense of dignity for them and it’s a great victory for us.”
New York State Senator Jessica Ramos, who was on hand to support the women and assisted them in their negotiation with USTA from the very beginning of the campaign, agrees with Vargas.
“I think very often immigrants think they don’t have any rights in New York and it’s not worth the trouble of actually making a wage theft claim,” she said. “This is proof that it is not only possible, it should be done every single time. We should be able to distinguish between bad employers and good employers.”