Knowing Workers Rights Key for API Immigrant Women


By Ronvel Sharper | Photo, Sean Kirkpatrick

Knowing your rights in the workplace can be the difference between being exploited and getting a living wage. That was a key message for women immigrants at the third annual API Women’s Summit that took place in September in Oakland.

“The most common problem we see is [immigrant women] working really long hours without the proper hourly pay, such as overtime and in some cases, double overtime,” said David Ta, an attorney with the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco, during a workshop at the summit. The event, organized by the non-profit organization Community Health for Asian Americans, drew about 120 women attendees originally from countries that included Tibet, Cambodia, Burma, Vietnam and Mongolia.

Ta said he is especially concerned about women falling victim to hourly wage, meal and rest-break abuses.

“It’s important for people to know that there are resources out there to help enforce labor laws. Nonprofits like the Asian Law Caucus help with workers’ rights issues, and government agencies like the Department of Labor and the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement help with workplace rights,” said Ta. “We let workers and people entering the workforce know that there are labor laws designed to protect those in poverty.”

When you know your rights, Ta said, you can ensure that you receive fair treatment at work, and know where to get help if you need it.

Here are a few tips for workers:

– Always know what the minimum wage is in your area. All employers are required by law to pay their workers at least the minimum wage. This is true for every worker in the United States, no matter where they were born or what their nationality is.

– You should always get paid for every hour you work.

– With every four hours of work, employees receive a 30-minute, uninterrupted break.

–  Tips belong to the person they’re intended for, unless an employee takes part in a mandatory tipping pool, in which the wait staff, chef and kitchen staff share tips.

– If an employee is injured during work, that employee is eligible for worker’s compensation.

– A new law in California says for every 30 hours of work, an employee gets an hour of sick leave. An employer cannot fire employees or demote them during this sick time.

For more information on workers’ rights visit

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