By Julia Blandon, Conflict Resolution Specialist
It is early morning and the sun is rising. The usual city noises are drowned in silence. You get into your vehicle and head to work. You arrive. Today you will be working on replacing floors, changing walls, re-tiling, and painting. As strenuous as it is, the need to provide for yourself and your family keeps you motivated. At the end of the day, your foreman delays your payment to the following week. A week becomes two. Two become three, and so forth. You are becoming desperate for assistance. How you can go about getting your work’s pay?
I see many work-related cases like these in my work as a Conflict Resolution Specialist at the Asian Pacific Dispute Resolution Center (APADRC). In working with the Latino community, I assist many people who work in some form of construction. They seek out the APADRC’s assistance in obtaining wages they are owed when their employer fails to pay them. It is the first time most of these clients have ever used mediation services, so I explain the process clearly.
Many different facets go into initiating a case. First, we get as many details as possible from the clients regarding the dispute. Additional documentation can be useful but is not necessary. Second, we attain the contact information of both individuals to seek or relay facts. Not having proper contact information can prolong the mediation process. Lastly, we explain to the clients that as mediators we take a neutral role between the individuals in conflict, and that all information will remain confidential. It is most imperative to highlight to clients that mediation is a voluntary process. I often try to remind them that all parties must willingly agree to participate and that no one can be forced. Communicating these three facets of mediation gives the clients a better understanding of the process.
Naturally, challenges arise once a case is opened. One of the difficulties occurs when there is a lack of documentation. Often times it is difficult for the workers to attain proof of the amount they are owed. Employers may take advantage of this situation and choose to flex their power rather than cooperate or there could be circumstances why they didn’t pay the full amount that the worker expected. In every situation it is important to communicate well with the employer and understand their side of the situation.
Frequently, I hear workers saying that they have been made fearful of exercising their rights. This could be addressed by providing awareness workshops with referring organizations. These workshops would help protect workers by encouraging them to become conscious of useful information such as attaining the correct name of the employer, as well as a functioning phone number. Having these workshops would also serve the purpose to create a network of support amongst workers. Here, they can share their experiences and offer any advice to fellow workers.
I have been an intern with the APADRC for about three months, and I have learned a great deal in refining my communication skills. At times, figuring out how I will begin communicating with the employer can be a challenge, and I have learned to be more attentive and empathetic towards both parties. This has helped me gain insight or important information from either the employer or employee. Often times it is easy to assume that the employer is in the wrong, but as a neutral third party, I remind myself that it is important to understand what difficulties the employer may also be facing. No matter what the outcome may be it is important to remember that I am there to assist both individuals..