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For Immediate Release

Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office Hosts Successful Wage Theft & Labor Justice Symposium

SANTA ROSA, CA | June 27, 2024

The Sonoma County District Attorney's Office proudly announces the success of its inaugural Wage Theft & Labor Justice Symposium, held on June 21, 2024. The well-attended event brought together prominent community leaders, wage theft and labor exploitation experts, and stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds in the fight against wage theft, resulting in a day of thoughtful and nuanced discussion directed toward safeguarding the rights of workers across our community.

The symposium was hosted at The Backdrop in Santa Rosa, a beautiful 20,000 foot indoor/outdoor event venue and social enterprise of Becoming Independent (BI), a nonprofit community benefit organization supporting the full spectrum of needs for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in the North Bay.

The day began with Deputy District Attorney Ryann Jorban, Deputy in Charge of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office Labor Justice Unit and Economic Justice & Notario Fraud Unit. DDA Jorban kicked off the event by delivering a compelling presentation on building successful wage theft prosecutions. DDA Jorban is renowned statewide for her expertise in prosecuting wage theft cases, building coalitions of community partners against wage theft and exploitation, and in protecting vulnerable populations.

The morning also included a distinguished panel that explored the underground economy, the large gap between the real cost of living in Sonoma County and the income of a large proportion of its residents, and the toll wage theft takes not only on workers, but on the economy itself in a panel titled “Economic vs. Humanitarian Considerations: Why Wage Theft Matters.” Panelists included District Representative of Operating Engineers Local 3 Michael Pickens, United Way of the Wine Country CEO and President Lisa Carreño, U.S. Department of Labor Community Outreach & Resource Planning Specialist Ana Hurtado-Aldana, and Statewide Director of the California Fast Food Workers Union Maria Maldonado. Each brought unique insights into the devastating and destabilizing impacts of wage theft on workers, the community, and the local economy.

At midday, District Attorney Carla Rodriguez sat down with journalist Alejandro Lazo of CalMatters, and discussed his news organization’s eight-part series, "When Employers Steal Wages from Workers." The series shed light on the staggering impact of wage theft on California’s most vulnerable workers, the frustration those workers face when attempting to file claims to be repaid for their stolen wages, the changing landscape in District Attorney’s Offices related to wage theft cases, and the importance of partnerships with local community organizations to provide resources to wage theft victims. Press Democrat investigative reporter Phil Barber joined the stage to share his experience investigating and reporting on two teenagers who were victims of wage theft at a local Subway franchise, and the real-life results of his work. 

The afternoon sessions featured a conversation with lived-experience experts Rafael Bautista, Vice Chair of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, and Megan Berger, Board Member of Redemption House. They discussed the realities of labor trafficking, shared some of their personal experiences, quashed some stereotypes and commonly held misconceptions about trafficking survivors, and provided insights on utilizing a trauma-informed approach when advocating for trafficking survivors.

The audience next heard from Deputy Attorney General Tiffany Susz and San Mateo District Attorney Inspector Ty Zemlok, who worked together to successfully prosecute three defendants accused of wage theft and other egregious labor violations at Rainbow Bright Care Facilities in San Mateo County. DAG Susz and Inspector Zemlok captivated the audience with their discussion of the investigation, arrests, pretrial delays, and eventual seven-month trial that resulted in guilty verdicts and lengthy prison sentences for the three defendants who terrorized a group of home care workers.

The last panel of the day was titled “Navigating the Wage Theft Maze,” moderated by DDA Jorban. Panelists included Litigation Director Verónica Meléndez from the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Counsel for Wage and Hour Andrew Schultz from the U.S. Department of Labor, Director of Organizing Davin Cárdenas from North Bay Jobs with Justice, and Deputy Labor Commissioner David Gomez from the California Department of Industrial Relations. The panelists explained the different tools each had in their respective toolboxes for assisting workers in recouping stolen wages, the pros and cons of bringing a wage theft claim at each organization, and the various partners with whom they collaborate in an effort to help those victims who might otherwise fall through the cracks.

The symposium concluded with a call to action by District Attorney Rodriguez. 

District Attorney Rodriguez commented: "Wage theft harms workers, their families, and the community as a whole. This event has laid the groundwork for future collaboration, including the establishment of a much-needed Sonoma County Wage Theft Task Force. No one organization or governmental entity can solve this huge problem alone.  Only through teamwork and collaboration will we be able to reduce labor exploitation in Sonoma County."

The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office extends its most sincere gratitude to those who participated in the event, whether on stage or in the audience, all of whom made the event such a remarkable success. The District Attorney’s Office remains dedicated to upholding justice, championing fairness, and safeguarding the rights of workers, and looks forward to continuing these critical conversations and translating insights from the symposium into meaningful action in our community.

Workers who believe they are the victims of wage theft, or who want more information on rules and examples of wage theft, can call the Sonoma County District Attorney’s wage theft hotline at 1-833-889-2437 (1-833-88-WAGES) and/or visit the Department of Industrial Relations website for more information.


Contact Information

Media Spokesperson, Assistant District Attorney Brian Staebell
Media Coordinator, Carrie Trevena
(707) 565-3098