NM chile pickers underpaid

New Mexico chile pickers, chileros, the workers who pick the prized green chiles sold at Albuquerque grocery stores, are not being paid the proper minimum wage, according to a report in the ABQ Free Press. According to a report in the journal, a 2012 survey of 273 farm workers by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty found their average household income to be less than $9,000, well below the $11,670 for a one-person household. That survey found that almost 70 percent of the workers interviewed were victims of wage theft. Wage theft is perpetrated in several ways. Until this year, farm workers were paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 when paid hourly for work like weeding, but they should have been paid New Mexico’s the slightly higher minimum wage of $7.50.

Another concern is that the chileros are not being paid for time waiting in vans for the sun to come up. They can’t work in the dark. “They can’t go anywhere and there’s nothing else for them to do but wait. Their employer brought them to the job site, therefore, their waiting time should be compensable because their workday has already begun.”

Jorge Matien, a 53-year old worker from Ciudad Juarez. Said, “Sometimes we get [to the fields] about 5 (AM) but we need to wait so we can see,” he said. “So we wait one hour, a couple hours.” He added that he’s paid “nothing” for that time. The New Mexico Center for Law and Poverty 2012 study found he’s not alone––95 percent of workers interviewed weren’t paid for their wait time.