This essential innovation is putting power into the hands of workers to fight wage theft, which is estimated to cost workers in the U.S. $50 billion annually.
¡Reclamo! is a tool designed to help workers and organizers easily identify and tackle wage theft by automating the data collection process and facilitating access to legal support. The innovation builds worker power by allowing workers to independently identify their risk of wage theft, initiate the wage recovery process, identify opportunities for organizing, and use data to take on large claims and/or patterns among employers throughout New York state and beyond. ¡Reclamo! was developed in partnership with workplace justice advocates from Make the Road New York and is designed to help workers and non-lawyer advocates navigate the complexities of employment law, safely, in plain language, and from any mobile phone.
The Workers Lab has been following the work of Justicia Lab, a nonprofit innovation incubator for tech solutions supporting immigrants, and their latest resource, ¡Reclamo!, for several years. In fact, the tenacious team at ¡Reclamo! applied for our Innovation Fund twice before finally being selected as a finalist in 2021. They didn’t give up. Instead they continued to strengthen their innovation to maximize participation in the Innovation fund, which led to their beta launch in October 2022 and official public launch in May 2023.
We recently caught up with Rodrigo Camarena, Director of Immigration Advocates Network about their work. You can learn more about the organization and donate to support them here.
How has your organization changed or grown since the investment?
We’ve grown! The Workers Lab Innovation Fund award gave us the confidence to continue expanding our project and our work. It allowed us to make inroads with new funders and partners, including worker centers, employment workplace justice advocates, and more.
It also helped us get the word out. The award opened doors to new journalists who weren’t familiar with our work and then saw us as a viable solution because of the recognition from The Workers Lab.
The public recognition and validation helped us file over $1 million in wage theft claims on behalf of workers just during our six-month beta test.
What are you focused on today?
We’re continually trying to bring awareness about our tech-enabled tool for employment justice. We want workers, worker centers, advocates, and anyone who is helping workers to know about our project. We’re working in New York and around the country to let people know about our initiative and let them know we have built a platform to help them, their members, and the people they serve easily retrieve stolen wages.
Our focus is on letting those on the front lines know that technology can support and empower them and to recognize that together we can really take on the structural causes of wage theft. We want workers and advocates to recognize that we live in an increasingly digital world, and we need to be able to leverage and use technology to move our issues forward.
One of the best things about our technology is that it puts power in the hands of workers. Our tool gives workers and advocates the ability to recover lost wages, to write letters to key stakeholders, get data that provide actionable insights that might help organizers take on large employers and repeat offenders of wage theft. To that end, we want to inform policy on the state level, and our technology accelerates a solution for workers who are the victims of wage theft.
What do you want potential donors to know about your work?
Advocates need infrastructure to do their best work and technology. Broad scale, movement focused infrastructure that helps them reach the people they need to reach. Tools can act as a force multiplier for the people who are already doing direct work, and we need to invest in infrastructure so movements can advance their causes and make structural change possible.
We’re trying to bring attention to wage theft and worker justice at large. It feels so broad and immovable, but it’s an issue we can make headway on if we act collectively, especially if we embrace new tools to advance advocacy.
Wage theft contributes to poverty, people’s reliance on food stamps, and it steals city and state tax revenue, so it impacts more than just workers. It impacts cities/communities at large. Let’s dream big. Let’s dream of a world where workers are paid a fair wage, whoever they are and wherever they are from.
What advice do you have for new innovators trying to help workers?
First and foremost, it’s important to listen to directly impacted individuals, including workers and worker organizers. You can’t walk into those conversations with bias or fore drawn conclusions about what they might need. You just need to listen to what they do need and then work with them to make that possible.
A lot of our work has been focused on listening to experts and the people who are doing the toughest work to advance workplace justice and help immigrants nationwide. Our technology is informed by workers. It’s about listening and learning and building innovative solutions with those who are impacted to solve the problem.
It’s also important to not give up. ¡Reclamo! applied to the Innovation Fund more than once before we were able to partner with The Workers Lab. And we learned something through each application process that improved our work and focus.