Vega's Radiator Repair
Unequal Pay: When Crime Pays
by Myron Downe Karr
EL PASO, Tex. — A former radiator repairman today lost a law suit against the shop owner who fired him in November 2008 and hired an illegal alien in his place.
Lowell Ryder proved that Rusty Vega fired him immediately after the Presidential election because he could save thousands of dollars yearly by hiring an undocumented Mexican migrant in his place. But Judge Bonnie N. Clyde of 41st District Court said employers could not be forced to comply with federal regulations that were seldom and selectively enforced.
Outside the courthouse, Ryder said he had been looking forward to paying off his bills with the $48,000 he had expected to be awarded. Now he said he will be forced to file for bankruptcy.
"Rusty told me he could double his income by firing me and the other Americans and hiring Mexican illegals," Ryder said. "He said he waited until Obama got elected because he knew that Mexicans would be welcomed here as potential new voters. I still can't believe he was right."
The shop is a nondescript stucco one-story building that is less than a block from the Rio Grande River, which forms the U.S.-Mexico border through the city. Painted on the radiator shop facade is the motto, "Best Place to Take a Leak."
When this reporter parked his vintage smokey gray and just plain smoking 1973 Vega outside the shop, half a dozen workers dropped their tools and dived into a jungle of mesquite that ran from the west side of the building to the Rio Grande River. The sounds of splashing could be heard clearly as the workers evidently enjoyed a refreshing swim during their mid-morning break.
Vega didn't seem to be in a good mood. But he warmed up when he learned that a potential cash-paying customer stood before him. Soon the conversation turned to the lawsuit.
"Well, all I can say is that I can't afford to do business the old way," Vega answered. "All the auto shops down here hire Mexicans. In fact, many of them are owned by Mexicans. If I had to hire only Americans, my prices would be so high that my business would go under."
Vega explained that his Mexican nationals gross about half of what he used to pay his American workers, but their take-home pay is roughly equal.
"But that's not the half of it," he said. "Take Lowell , for instance. I paid him $20 an hour, which works out to $41,600 a year. But then I also had to pay unemployment insurance, workman's comp, 7.65 percent Social Security tax, $500 a month toward his health insurance and who knows what else. It turns out I was actually paying out $55,000 a year just for him. I could hire 2 1/2 Mexicans for that at $10 an hour, and if I need them to work overtime, that's only $15 an hour."
Vega said his Mexican workers do better on $10 an hour than Ryder did on $20 an hour.
"By the time I figured out Lowell's withholdings, his take home pay was only about $2,000 a month," he said. "His federal tax was about 15 percent, state was 5 percent, his share of his health insurance was $500 a month, and so all that money was gone before he even got home.
"His wife, Elizabeth Zoe, worked to make ends meet, but they made too much to qualify for welfare, food stamps, subsidized rent, subsidized medical care or anything like that. By the time she paid her taxes and her babysitter, she made only about five bucks an hour, and most of that went to keep her run-down car running to get her to work.
"After they paid their rent, the Ryders had only about a hundred bucks a month to spend on food, movies or anything else. Lowell was going broke working for me. I actually did the Ryders a big favor by letting him go. If he wants to come back here and work for cash, he could actually do better on less money.
"He might even be able to keep as much of his earnings as my Mexican workers. They get free health care down at the hospital emergency room, so they don't bother wasting money on health insurance, and they get to keep every dollar I pay them because they don't have to pay any federal or state taxes. Plus their kids get to go to our schools up here, and they get breakfast and lunch at school.
"I don't actually pay my undocumented workers under the table. I just let them keep the whole fee on some of the cars they work on when the customers pay cash."
Asked whether he feels guilty about avoiding the payment of taxes, Vega said he sleeps with a clear conscience.
"They say a fool and his money are easily parted," he said. "And my daddy didn't raise no fool. He told me if the money don't come in, then it ain't income. And he taught me how t
o deduct before I even learned to subtract."
Lowell and E.Z. Ryder said they most likely will leave El Paso now that the lawsuit is over.
"We're tired of being minorities," Lowell said. "Even though some people might criticize us, we prefer to mingle with other people who think and talk like us, we're not interested in learning the language, and we don't want to assimiliate into the culture even though my name might indicate otherwise."
Quote of the Day
"We should insist that the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equity with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace or origin. But this is predicated upon the man's becoming an American and nothing but an American. There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American but something else, also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag — the American flag — and this excludes the red flag which symbolizes all wars against liberty and civilization, just as much as it excludes any flag of a nation to which we are hostile. We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language, and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people." — Theodore Roosevelt.