By Hugo Esparza-Pérez, CP
As part of my ministry I have been volunteering at a local non-profit that educates and advocates for and with low wage workers. My role has been primarily of organizing local labor rights workshops in different parts of the city and assisting in cases of labor-law abuses. For one of the court cases, which was entrenched in year-long litigation process, I was asked to participate as a translator. The sixteen (out of 25) remaining workers, who decided to continue a class-action lawsuit against their ex-employer, debated whether or not it was worth it to continue spending their time in and out court, money, and energy in this struggle.
Their case was simple, the employer failed to pay employees their over-time wages for more than five-years. Once the employer fired this group and sold the business, without previous notice to the rest of the workers, it was thought that the company and its owners where exempt from any previous wrong doings. Unfortunately for the workers, their ex-boss had deep pockets and, therefore, was able to drag the litigation process through last minute court re-scheduling and other bureaucratic tactics in order to exhaust the defendants.
During the meeting tension and emotions ran high. The group was divided between those who wanted to quit and those who wanted to continue. The power they held as a group was critical for the process of the lawsuit and for the remuneration that they would be given if they were to win. They all knew what they were risking, and the meeting became chaotic.
Everyone in the small room, even the pro-bono lawyer, no longer talked but shouted. In the middle of all of this an older-man, who had been silent through the entire meeting, rose up and raised his hand. The room went silent. We have already won, he shouted. We stood up for ourselves! We have already won, why stop now. He continued, we’re humans of flesh and bone, like the boss, we are children of God and we need to be treated as such.
The power of our convictions is what lights up our hope. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in his Encyclical Letter on Christian Hope (Spe Salvi), reminded us that our hope comes from our conviction that Jesus Christ is God’s greatest proof of Love. This would lead us, therefore, to “the great certitude of hope that [one’s] own life and history in general, despite all failures, are held firm by the indestructible power of Love, and that this gives them their meaning and importance, only this kind of hope can then give the courage to act and to persevere” (sect. 35).
For these workers, their self worth as human beings, husbands, fathers, and their conviction that no one had the right to take this away allowed them to pull themselves together and risk their time, money and energy in their struggle to find justice.
The case of the workers lasted one more year. After other great battles and setbacks, the ruling of the court finally went to their favor. During the small victory celebration that we held, one of the workers said as he congratulated his co-workers and friends, the money we received did not mean anything, what really counts is that our dignity was respected and that justice was served.
Bro. Hugo Esparza-Pérez is a Passionist Missionary currently on his last year of formation at CTU