02/2012

A Boss Flashes Gun, Refuses to Pay

Hortensia

It was only three days of landscaping work, but Hortensia decided to take the job.

She and a friend were promised $7.50 an hour to clear a plot of land and plant trees. The boss seemed to appreciate their work. He treated them well and gave them a full hour for lunch.

But that would all change. As an undocumented Mexican immigrant in Alabama, Hortensia would learn that under HB 56, there’s not much you can do when your employer won’t pay you. In fact, she believes the new law helped give her boss the confidence to deny her the money she earned.

“The HB 56 gives him the power,” the 50-year-old Decatur resident said. “This is what I thought right away. You’re listening on the TV and the radio, knowing how little we can defend ourselves as immigrants now. If you’re a citizen and you’re from here, you have the power. And the HB 56 is saying to you that … there is no one to defend me.”

During the first two days, the boss praised their work. On the final day, things took a turn for the worse. They were asked to clean up a trailer that hadn’t been used in years. Hortensia pulled out wet and moldy furniture, including old mattresses filled with bugs. She wondered why he wanted them to clean a trailer that was in such disrepair. It didn’t make sense.

The boss’ demeanor had changed. At one point, he showed Hortensia and her friend a gun he had at his side, saying it was for protection. He then left for the bank.

When he returned, he was angry. He yelled at them for supposedly doing a terrible job. The two women were scared of the gun. He disappeared into a trailer.

Hortensia wanted her pay, but it was quitting time and her friend was the only ride home. She left but was determined to get paid.

A few days later she went to her boss’ house with her son-in-law. When he finally answered the door, he again yelled about how terrible her work had been. Hortensia and her son-in-law told him it wasn’t true. She only wanted her pay.

He pulled the gun from his side. He told Hortensia that it didn’t matter if she filed a police report or if she went to court—he wouldn’t pay her. Hortensia couldn’t do anything because she didn’t have “papers.”

He pointed the gun at Hortensia and her son-in-law. They left.

A police report was filed about the incident, but nothing happened. Hortensia has yet to receive her wages.

“You can’t fight with anyone if you aren’t legal, and that’s why he didn’t pay us,” she said. “We haven’t gone to the court because it’s like we have no case because we’re illegal. We’re afraid to do it.”

Photo and video by Sarah P. Reynolds