Pay It Forward 

Former Phoenix Recycling employees fight for unpaid wages.

When Rudy Carrillo didn't receive his paycheck from Phoenix Recycling last December, his family in Mexico went hungry.

"My family depends on my paycheck, so they can pay their bills and buy groceries," Carrillo said.

Carrillo is one of 17 Hispanic and African-American workers who claim that the North Memphis plastic recycling plant stopped paying them shortly after Christmas. Collectively, the workers claim Phoenix Recycling owes them $20,000 in back pay.

The Memphis Workers' Center, a nonprofit group that defends workplace rights for both immigrant and American-born workers, has been pressuring Phoenix owner Leonard Alexander to distribute the unpaid wages. The group will hold a prayer vigil outside the plant on Thursday, April 17th, at 4 p.m.

"They were getting paid in the beginning when they started working for Phoenix. But then, all of a sudden, the owner said production wasn't good enough, and he wasn't getting paid for the material he was shipping out. So he didn't have the money to pay them," said Alfredo Pena, a volunteer with the Memphis Workers' Center.

Alexander admits that he owes the workers money but disputes the amount.

"Altogether, I think I owe them between $2,500 and $3,000," Alexander said. "The hours they're claiming are totally different from what we're showing."

Times are tough at the Phoenix plant, and Alexander blames his financial troubles on worker error. He claims workers erroneously mixed different types of plastic, such as soda bottles and milk crates.

"They contaminate the stuff that goes out. Then the buyer rejects the whole load," Alexander said. "I lose $10,000 to $15,000 out of my pocket."

Carrillo and several other workers say they lost their apartments when they could not pay the rent and a few say their phones were disconnected.

Volunteers at the Memphis Workers' Center hope to devise a payment plan with Alexander, but if he does not comply, they say they'll take the complaints to the U.S. Department of Labor.

"I want to pay them their money if I can stay in business," Alexander said. "If I can't stay in business, I don't have any options. But I think we can work something out and get this resolved."

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