U.S. Labor Secretary hears Cincinnati workers' on-the-job horror stories

Sec. Walsh thanks them for their 'courage'
Gandhi Merida speaks to Labor Secretary Martin Walsh
Posted at 6:29 PM, Sep 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-16 21:09:26-04

CINCINNATI — Gandhi Merida never could have imagined he would sit next to United States Labor Secretary Martin Walsh and have his full attention on a workplace issue that changed Merida's life.

"We were never paid what we were promised," Merida told Walsh Thursday during a roundtable discussion on labor issues at the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center.

Merida said he and his Spanish-speaking co-workers had been cheated out of pay and benefits by R&R Steel, a Sharonville company owned by Ron Estes.

The I-Team first reported on the case in 2017.

Estes pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati to embezzlement and mail fraud for "wage theft" involving several hundred thousand dollars of compensation for employees.

He's scheduled to be sentenced in December.

Merida, who took workers' complaints to OSHA and other agencies, said he was "scared" in the beginning, but the support of co-workers, union leaders and the CIWC help support the journey to getting their pay and holding Estes accountable.

"I feel good," Merida told the I-Team after the meeting with Walsh. "It's a history day. Not just for me, but for everyone. He decided to take a minute and stop by and listen to a little bit of history of this community."

Walsh also listened to other workers share their stories.

"I want to thank them for their courage," Walsh told the I-Team. " I want them to know that the more people stand up and tell us about the injustices that are happening to them on the job sites, the stronger we'll be in laying down a foundation for the future workers so they won't have to go through that."

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