Domestic Worker Survives Human Trafficking, Celebrates Wage Theft Victory

Media advisory for: Wednesday, June 17, 11:00 AM

What: On the heels of International Domestic Workers Day, workers and advocates will bring visibility to a pivotal wage theft case in San Francisco.  Francisca Vasquez, a domestic worker, spent nearly 20 years mostly in isolation in her employer’s home where she worked around the clock cooking, cleaning, and attending to her employer’s aging parents. She earned only $400 – and later $500 – a month.  Though at the time San Francisco’s minimum wage was approximately $10 an hour, Ms. Vasquez’s pay was a mere $16 a day.  Despite promises that she would be given the opportunity to learn how to read and write, and adjust her immigration status, her conditions as a trafficked live-in personal attendant, here in San Francisco, only worsened.

Ms. Vasquez’s fear and isolation was further exacerbated by the fact that one of her employers was a religious leader within her community, who painted a different picture to the outside world than what was actually happening in the home. Fortunately, in 2013, with assistance from API Legal Outreach and based on her most extreme working conditions, Citizenship and Immigration Services issued Ms. Vasquez a T Visa, having found her to be a trafficking survivor.

But the battle for justice and dignity did not end there. Ms. Vasquez, represented by the Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center, was still owed unpaid minimum wages due to her many years of hard work. On May 7, 2015, the Labor Commissioner issued a judgment in the amount of $138,386.85 in favor of Ms. Vasquez. While the statute of limitations restricted her ability to receive all that was owed to her, this judgment is a huge victory for Ms. Vasquez –  and for the domestic worker movement. The parties then negotiated a settlement agreement ensuring prompt payment of $100,000 to Ms. Vasquez and no further appeals. Ms. Vasquez remains an active member of Mujeres Unidas y Activas and is sharing her experience with domestic workers across California as she rebuilds her life: “When I was there, I couldn’t speak, I was afraid of speaking . . .  Now, I feel better and I am starting to talk to others.  And I feel that I am free.”

When: 11:00, Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Where:  Women’s Building, 3543 18th St, SF. (Second floor: Audre Lorde Room.)
Who: Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA), Legal Aid Society Employment Law Center (LAS-ELC)

  • Francisca Vasquez, domestic worker and MUA member
  • Carole Vigne, LAS-ELC staff attorney and Director of the Wage Protection Program
  • Juana Flores, MUA Co-director and US representative of the ILO
  • Hyun-mi Kim, API Legal Outreach  (APILO) Client Advocate and Legal Caseworker 

Additional Background:
There are over 200,000 domestic workers in California, and thousands of wage theft cases of domestic workers that do not result in a settlement or any sort of retribution. The severity of Ms. Vasquez’s case brings to light the plight of domestic workers whom, living and working in the shadows of private homes, are particularly vulnerable to abuse.

In 2013, Governor Brown approved legislation providing overtime pay to personal attendants, which is effective until January 1, 2017 and will be reconsidered by the Legislature next year. Such legislation recognized personal attendants such as Ms. Vasquez  as people deserving the same labor rights as other workers.  Ms. Vasquez’s case underscores the importance of maintaining and strengthening the enforcement of these protections.

Quick Escape