Two Snapshots, One Problem
Hispanics won battles this week that they shouldn't have had to fight
If indeed every picture tells a story, two may well reveal quite a bit more than the sum of their parts. On the right is a photograph distributed last week with an e-mail from the office of Austin Capital Management, a hedge fund, with the caption: "Important Tax Reminder: Don't forget to pay your taxes ... Muchas gracias! 21 million illegal aliens are depending on you!" The photo subjects, four unidentified Hispanic men holding beads, appear to be celebrating Mardi Gras – but in the ACM e-mail forwarded by office manager Tina McMillin, the photo depicts only "illegal aliens" presumably placing undue financial burdens on taxpayers (e.g., the hardworking traders of hedge funds).
The e-mail was received by at least one member of the Austin-based U.S. Hispanic Contractors Association, which in a press release denounced its "blatant racism" as "beyond offensive to the Hispanic community" as well as fanning "the fires of ignorance and hatred toward a group that toils tirelessly, in oftentimes underappreciated crafts, for the good of themselves, their families and for ALL individuals who call America their home." Subsequently, ACM released an apology "to anyone who has received this extremely offensive email," saying it was neither authorized nor condoned by the company. "Please be assured we take these matters very seriously," the statement read, "and will take appropriate action."
ACM requested a meeting with the association, which took place Monday, April 20, and both sides said afterward that the session went well, and the conversation will continue. "They expressed incredible regret for the e-mail," said Frank Fuentes, chairman of the USHCA, "and we'll continue to work with them. This is about the company, not the individual," he added. "The last thing we want to do is mess with anybody's employment."
The second photograph on the right provides a study in contrast. It shows a demonstration sponsored by the Workers Defense Project on behalf of 11 construction workers who performed concrete and masonry work last fall on the Cobra Studios development of Cobalt Companies. The workers, owed nearly $20,000 by the subcontractor, have yet to be paid for their work. According to Emily Timm of the WDP, Cobalt agreed to pay the workers in March but reneged. Matt McCormack of Cobalt, and a partner in Cobra Team LP, said subcontractor ACL Masonry was paid for the job but failed to pay its employees (and has since filed for bankruptcy, he said). "ACL stole their labor and stole our money," McCormack said, adding, "We're all in the same boat here."
Following the April 16 protest at the job site organized by WDP and joined by the Texas State Employees Union, Ecology Action, the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, and others, McCormack signed an agreement to pay the workers, saying the company will meet with the group next week (following a Friday bankruptcy hearing concerning ACL Masonry) to arrange the details and will do what's required "under Texas law."
According to the WDP (aka Proyecto Defensa Laboral), "In four years of working toward the recovery of unpaid wages, PDL has received hundreds of cases from immigrant workers in Austin who have worked in construction, cleaning, landscaping, childcare, and food service, all of whom were denied payment for their work or not paid the legal minimum wage or overtime."
Consider the bright side: Perhaps the workers' vulnerability to unscrupulous employers allowed a few hedge fund investors to make a higher return on their investments, the better to pay their burdensome capital gains taxes.