Rodrigo Camarena

New York

Project Overview

¡Reclamo! (“Reclaim!” in Spanish) is the first digital legal tool designed to automate and simplify the wage theft filing process for undocumented immigrant workers. Addressing a national epidemic that accounts for $50 billion in annual losses, the project stands to empower workers who are most vulnerable to employer exploitation and retaliation, with support from assessing their risk for wage theft to initiating the recovery process.

Five Questions

1What needs does ¡Reclamo! address and how?

Wage theft is a national epidemic with losses to workers estimated at $50 billion annually. While all low-income and hourly workers are vulnerable to wage theft, undocumented immigrant workers are at especially high risk of exploitation and retaliation by employers, and more likely to lack correct information on their rights and labor laws in the US.

Traditionally, wage theft claims have been addressed by lawyers and paralegals from for-profit firms or well-staffed legal aid agencies. ¡Reclamo! innovates on this long-standing challenge by empowering the community of non-lawyer “helpers” who are already helping immigrant workers and who, with some training and experience, could assist thousands of immigrant workers in self-filing wage theft claims using the ¡Reclamo! app’s dynamic interview.

2Tell us about a moment that helped inspire your idea.

The idea to launch this project came at a time when the prospect for immigration reform was at its most dim and advocates were reporting higher levels of wage theft than ever before. I had read a story in a Spanish language newspaper about employers feeling emboldened by the then President to deprive workers of their minimum wage and harass them in other ways. This story cited the work of the worker center Make the Road NY to help workers reclaim stolen wages and so I reached out, told them a little about my work and past experience, and that launched the beginning of our collaboration with workplace justice advocates in NYC.

3What is the biggest challenge you face right now?

Our project’s near-term success is dependent on our ability to continue to develop the capacity of worker and worker-advocates to adopt the ¡Reclamo! tool and help us inform ongoing improvements and enhancements. Our project’s transformative power and potential lies in its growing usage amongst community-based organizations, worker centers, unions, legal service providers. We believe that expanded usage of the tool can only be guaranteed through ongoing partnership development, the creation of workplace justice educational materials, and a training curriculum for non-lawyer advocates seeking to support workers in addressing wage theft and other workplace issues.

4What other leaders have informed your work?

The work of workplace justice leaders like Make the Road New York, New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), and Worker’s Justice Project are a great source of inspiration. So is the work of the housing justice tech incubator JustFix and the civil legal aid innovators at Pro Bono Net.

5Describe a participant, client, community member, or someone else who represents what your project is all about.

When I think about this project, I think about the work of Make the Road New York and Manuel, who is originally from Ecuador, and was a cook at a restaurant in midtown Manhattan. Manuel worked for 50 hours a week for ten dollars an hour, until one day he gathered the courage to ask his boss for a raise. In response, Manuel’s employer demanded that he prove his immigration status. Manuel was then let go but he didn’t give up the fight. He sought out help and found support from the volunteers and staff at Make the Road New York’s Workplace Justice program. Make the Road New York helped him understand his rights, file a wage theft claim, and bring greater attention to this problem. He had the courage to speak out and fight for himself and others when the cost of doing so was so great. He, and others like him, are the inspiration for ¡Reclamo! and our movement to help end wage theft in this country.

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