Fil-Am labor leader Larry Itliong: An inspiration in the fight for lawful wages

ON June 30, 2015, the California Governor signed into law designating October 25 every year from hereon as Larry Itliong Day. Who is Larry Itliong and why does he matter? NPR says, “Cesar Chavez inspired the world. Larry Itliong inspired Cesar Chavez.”
Cesar Chavez, the labor rights activist to whom Cesar Chavez Day is dedicated, is credited with advancing the cause of the American farm labor movement, and improving farm workers’ wages and working conditions. However, not a lot of mention is made about the man who persuaded Chavez that it was a better idea for Filipino-American and Hispanic-American farm workers to join forces and work together to achieve their common goals. That man was Larry Itliong.
Larry Itliong was born on October 25, 1913, in San Nicolas, Pangasinan, Philippines. At 15 years old, and with only a sixth grade education, he moved to the United States to further his studies. However, it was the time of the Great Depression, and Itliong was forced to work on the railroads and then as a migrant farmworker traveling through Alaska, Montana, South Dakota, Washington, and finally California. It was in California that Itliong learned of the plight suffered by Filipinos and other immigrants working as farm laborers.
A labor activist for most of his life, Itliong organized a group of 1,500 Filipinos to strike against the grape growers of Delano, California, in what came to be known as the Delano Grape Strike, a pivotal moment in the history of the American labor movement. The workers on strike demanded wages equal to the federal minimum wage. They suffered through violence at the growers’ hired hands and the sheriff’s department, and were thrown out of the labor camp.
During the strike, Itliong called upon César Chávez and his followers to join forces with the Filipinos and strike together. The two groups combined, eventually forming the United Farm Workers of America, one of the greatest unions in the history of the nation. That farm labor workers of different ethnicities united and worked toward common goals was unprecedented at that time. The union held boycotts and marches that eventually led to agreements for better wages and protections of farm workers in the 1970s.
It has been 50 years since the Delano Grape Strike. And yet, the workers of Itliong’s day and the workers of today share the same struggle. Today, many immigrants continue to face difficulties in the workplace. They continue to struggle to be paid properly, to be treated fairly, and to work safely. One of the major challenges that workers face to this present day is wage theft – a situation that involves employers keeping or taking away monies that rightfully belong to their workers. Wage theft can take the following forms:
1) Manipulating timekeeping devices to reflect only the hours that employees are scheduled to work and ignoring any preliminary or postliminary work-related activities that employees perform. Preparing their tools, or making reports after clocking out will fall into this category.
2) Misclassifying employees as independent contractors. Employers who control and dictate the manner and method of how workers should do their job but still classify these workers as “independent contractors” are likely trying to deprive these workers of their rights to minimum wage, and overtime, among other things.
3) Denying overtime pay by paying employees a flat rate every day or ostensibly paying employees per piece rate and requiring employees to work more than 8 hours per day.
4) Rounding down practices to avoid the payment of all hours worked.
5) Not providing meal or rest breaks to employees. Employers may tell employees they are entitled to a 30-minute lunch break or a 10-minute rest break but employees are not provided an opportunity to take these breaks. Employers fail to provide relievers, or may interrupt employees during their breaks. These are all against the law and entitle employees to additional wages.
Continuing to be vigilant about their rights is one of the most effective ways for employees to prevent and remedy wage theft.  Employees who suffer inequities in the workplace should look to the courage, perseverance, and vision of Larry Itliong. For at work, as in life, workers do not get what they deserve. They get what they fight for.

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The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential and at no-cost.  Atty. Sayas’ Law Office is located at 500 N. Brand Blvd. Suite 980, Glendale, CA 91203. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit  www.joesayaslaw.com. 

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C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. is trial attorney who has obtained several million dollar recoveries for his clients against employers and insurance companies. He has been selected as a Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine, featured in the cover of Los Angeles Daily Journal’s Verdicts and Settlements, and is a member of the Million Dollar-Advocates Forum.

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