Interview conducted by Ted Smukler, August 6, 2008, at Gonzolo’s home in Minneapolis
Translated by Brian Payne
Gonzolo is a construction worker who looks like he is in his early 40s. He is one of many immigrant workers who have been defrauded and had their wages stolen by a notorious contractor in the Twin cities, Gabriel Francois.
“When I finish one job I’m always looking for the next. Friends will call, tell me there’s work over here, come over. But when you get a job, you find out how ugly some people can be—like Gabriel.”
Gonzolo worked for Gabriel Francois for two months, from 7:00 AM until 9:00 PM six days per week for two months. Francois had bought a house and hired a crew of 5 or 6 men to remodel it. “It was so ugly and run down. We gutted it. First we cleaned and aired it out. I did painting, tile work, poured cement. Gabrielle kept promising to pay us later. ‘I’ll pay you tomorrow, Tuesday, Thursday… I ended up being paid $300 total. He owes me $7,500—that’s how much he stole from me.
“Felipe, a co-worker of mine, and I took him to court. On the first court date, Francois didn’t show up, and it was continued. He came to the second court date, and told the judge that I hadn’t worked the hours I claimed. The judge ruled in his favor, since I didn’t have paperwork to prove my case. The judge awarded Felipe $1,300—he was owed a lot more, but he had receipts and paper to prove the $1,300. But then Francois turned around and sued Felipe and another guy, claiming they stole his truck and tools, which was a lie. I was a witness to this incident—Francois told Felipe to drive the truck for a work-related errand.
“Hector, my co-worker, was promised $250 a day for a tiling job. Francois kept telling him, ‘Ill pay you Tuesday…’ He owes Hector $4,000.
“When you are forced into poverty, you have to get used to it. We’ve had to buy a little bit less to eat. Can you imagine what it’s like to do all this work and come home penniless? The landlord is demanding rent, but I can’t pay him? Thanks to God, when one door closed, another opened. A couple of Somalis just gave me a job for $150, and I was able to call the landlord and tell him I could give him $120, but I need $30 to buy food. The next three days I worked for three different people. God provided so that I could eat. I have children in Mexico. I need to send money back home, but I can’t do that now.
“My friend Felipe told me about Worker’s Interfaith Network and the worker center. Through the worker center and talking with other workers, I now know that this is how Gabriel Francois operates. It’s not like Francois is broke. He bought that run down house, must have spent $120,000 on materials to fix it up so he could turn around and sell it for a profit. He’s done the same thing to dozens of workers, not paid them anything. I don’t know what will stop him from stealing wages. He’s already gone to jail for this. Maybe the court could seize one of his properties and sell it to pay off workers. He owns a house worth more than half a million, but the rest of his assets he keeps in other people’s names so that they are hidden. But it’s going to be really hard to get him to pay. He got out of jail and did the same stuff that got him in jail. I called the police about this, and the cop said there was nothing he could do. He takes advantage of immigrants because he thinks he can get away with it.