SAN JOSE (KPIX) – A group of San Jose city lawmakers gathered Monday to announce stepped up efforts to battle wage theft, forced labor and human trafficking.

Councilmembers Magdalena Carrasco, Raul Peralez, Sylvia Arenas announced their support for toughening up San Jose’s wage theft ordinance, and their intention to raise the issue at the council’s priority setting session during the March 5, 2019 meeting.

The proposed changes to the city’s current wage theft ordinance would specifically cover construction workers on both public and private projects, as well as public works projects. It would also require developers and contractors to disclose their own prior wage theft violations, as well as those of their subcontractors.

“If you are a developer a contractor stealing from your workers or exploiting them or shortchanging them then you should be afraid,” said Raul Peralez, San Jose City Councilmember.

Monday’s media event was held at the base of the Silvery Towers project in San Jose, where in 2017, the U.S. Labor Department announced more than a dozen undocumented immigrant workers were forced to work on the towers project, while being forced to live in squalid conditions in a compound in Hayward, by unlicensed contractor Job Torres Hernandez.

Opening arguments also began Monday in Hernandez’s trial in Oakland, where prosecutors charged Hernandez with cramming workers into tight sleeping quarters on ramshackle wooden bunks, no running water, and locked the door from the outside.

Prosecutors say Hernandez lured the workers using newspaper ads in Tijuana with the promise of US citizenship and good jobs, but instead withheld pay for months of work, and threatened them with violence if they went to the authorities.

Hernandez had also worked on the renovation of the Union Square Courtyard Marriott in San Francisco. If convicted on all charges, Hernandez could face up to 10 years in federal prison.

Councilmember Sylvia Arenas, who was raised in a family of construction workers said the ordinance is meant to prevent another Silvery Towers-like incident of wage theft.

“Here’s the bottom line. If a construction worker works, he needs to get paid. And the building behind us is a prime example of why these protections are needed,” Arenas said.

“Forced labor, human trafficking robs workers of their will, and consigns them to a life as a modern day slave. Protecting these workers is our shared responsibility,” said Ruth Silver-Taube, of the Santa Clara County Wage Theft Coalition.

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