ATLANTA -- Mexican consulates around the country plan to launch an effort next week to educate their citizens on their labor rights when working in the United States.
The "Semana de los Derechos Laborales," or "Labor Rights Week," will feature events in 11 of Mexico's 50 consulates in the U.S., including Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Diego, Dallas, New York, Chicago, Phoenix and Houston.
"We believe that this is an area of information that our community is in great need of," said Salvador De Lara, consul general in Atlanta. The consulate in Atlanta gets at least five to 10 complaints a week from workers whose labor rights have been violated, he said.
The most common complaints, he said, are lack of overtime pay, sums promised before a job is done that either aren't paid or get reduced once the work is done, and unsafe working conditions.
A language barrier can make it difficult for some workers to assert their rights and the situation is even more difficult for illegal immigrants because employers may threaten to report them to authorities if they complain, De Lara said.
"We're talking about a community that, in many ways, is very vulnerable," he said.
The consulates are modeling their labor rights week after the Binational Health Week organized by federal and state government agencies, community-based organizations and volunteers throughout the U.S. and Canada each October to improve the health and well-being of Latinos in the two countries through workshops, insurance referrals, and medical screenings.
Mexican consulates regularly discuss worker rights issues when workers contact them with a concern or come in to take care of other paperwork, but this initiative is the first coordinated national effort on labor rights.
During the Labor Rights Week, Aug. 31 through Sept. 4, the consulates will try to get out the word about laborer's rights through leaflets, posters, forums and other events.
After the one-week push, consular officials hope to expand the program to the rest of Mexico's consulates and to repeat the one-week concentrated effort several times a year.
De Lara bristled at a suggestion by critics that people here illegally aren't entitled to workplace protections.
"To cancel labor rights is the first step to canceling human rights," he said.