DENVER – It’s been 130 years since Labor Day was first celebrated – and 118 years since it became a federal holiday. While the workforce demographic in Colorado and across the nation may be changing, some issues facing workers remain the same.
According to the federal Department of Labor, Latinos represent the fastest-growing segment of the American workforce. But Labor Secretary Hilda Solis says with that change comes problems. She says many Latino workers are misclassified as independent contractors, which means they won’t qualify for benefits if injured on the job.
“My hope is that we can begin to push out more of our initiatives, which is to target those industries that we know are chronic violators that abuse our community.”
Those industries include hotel and food services, farming and construction. Solis says the Labor Department collected a record $224 million in back wages last year, impacting 275,000 workers.
The Labor Department reports that more than half of Latina women are working. Margarita Gomez, a Colorado organizer for the 9to5 National Association of Working Women, says many Latina women are afraid to speak up, fearing repercussions.
“Immigration status can be an issue. They may not know what their rights are in the workplace. So, they take the harassment, they take the discrimination because they don’t know that they have rights in the workplace.”
While the recent recession did harm the Latino workforce, Solis says, they’re also adjusting well to the recovery when compared with other ethnic or racial groups. Part of the reason, she says, is education – either through technical training programs, community colleges or university programs.
“Latinos have that initial drive where they continue to seek opportunities. I know that that’s something I personally have experienced and see in my own family.”
Overall, the Labor Department reports, the United States has gained 4.5 million jobs since January 2010, accounting for 29 straight months of private-sector growth.
If workers have questions about pay, job classification or work conditions, they can call 1-866-4-USA-DOL or 1-800-522-0925 in Colorado.