Female janitors working alone at night have been particularly vulnerable to sexual assault and often are reluctant to report it. After our Rape on the Night Shift investigation, efforts are underway to provide more protection to these workers. Credit: Matt Rota for Reveal

Every day, invisible armies of men and women head to work, where they’re tasked with doing something that helps make our lives a little bit easier. Some clean buildings, some assemble the devices we can’t live without, and some cook our favorite cheap eats.

On this hour of Reveal, we revisit our investigation of sexual assault against female janitors: Rape on the Night Shift. Since the story first aired, a group of workers has been organizing and is speaking out. Now, a bill to protect them is in the works.

That story was a collaboration among Reveal, FRONTLINE, Univision, the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley and KQED.

After that, we take another look at the toxic chemicals used in electronics manufacturing and the effect they have on the people who are exposed to them every day in Asia.

Finally, we bring you a new story from Peter Haden, of our partner the Houston Chronicle, about a black market of undocumented workers that is being used to supply Chinese restaurants all over the country.



Support for Reveal is provided by The Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Mary and Steven Swig.

Track list:

  • Camerado-Lightning, “True Game (Reveal show theme)” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Arthur Russell, “Instrumentals A” from “First Thought Best Thought” (Rough Trade)
  • Jim Briggs, “ArpHarp” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Ezekiel Honig, “Click and Sleep” from “People Places and Things” (Microcosm Music)
  • Ezekiel Honig, “Material Instrument” from “Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band” (Anticipate Recordings)
  • Jim Briggs, “ArpHarp” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Squarepusher, “Tommib” from “Lost in Translation OST” (Emperor Norton)
  • Tycho, “Daydream” from “The Daydream / The Disconnect” (Ghostly International)
  • Tycho, “Dive” from “Ascension” (Ghostly International)
  • Tycho, “Daydream” from “The Daydream / The Disconnect” (Ghostly International)
  • The Pastels / Kid Loco, “The Viaduct (Kid Loco / On the Right Banke of the River Mix)” from “Illuminati: Remixed” (Domino)
  • Alexandre Navarro, “Sirius Flutes” from “Sketches” (Constellation Tatsu)
  • Blue Dot Sessions, “Floor Shine” from “Speakeasy” (Blue Dot Sessions)
  • Raul Diaz Palomar, “Maqbara (Creditos)” from “Maqbara” (Vulpiano Records)
  • Aeroc, “Please Go Wrong” from “Viscous Solid” (Ghostly International)
  • KILN, “Desertkarnival (Rua Rebuild)” from “Vaporbend EP” (Ghostly International)
  • Dave Depper, “Personal Trainier” from “Compositions 2” (Needle Drop Co.)


Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.

Section 1 of 3          [00:00:00 – 00:14:05] (NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
Al Letson: From the Center for Investigation reporting in PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. This week we’re going to take another look at stories about invisible workers. The armies of women and men who had to work cleaning, building, cooking, doing jobs that aren’t supposed to be noticed and the go largely unseen. But now, one group of workers is speaking out to draw attention to some of the problems they face on the job.
This is a rally of workers and activists at California State Capitol in Sacramento earlier this month. They gathered to raise awareness about the abuse that female janitors experience while cleaning buildings alone at night. This movement is just starting and it was sparked, in part, by our investigation Rape on the Night Shift. And now a California lawmaker is working on a bill to make it safer for female janitors who work the night shift. His state assembly woman, Loraina Gonzalez.
L. Gonzalez:

There are women who are working alone, they often are threatened with their immigration status, they’re threatened with their jobs, they’re threatened with their dignity and as a result they stay in these situations where they’re being assaulted and raped.

Al Letson: Gonzalez plans to introduce new legislation this year and is considering ideas like having women work in pairs and mandating sexual harassment training. Those are two solutions that we also identified while reporting the story and we want to play that again for you now. Here’s reporter Sash Khokha of KQED.
Sasha Khokha: The lights go out as the daytime office workers leave the building and then room by room they flicker back on. Three stories of glass light up like a shadow play. The silhouettes of janitors appear on different floors. One polishing a window, another mopping. Outside, two women hide behind a palm tree, watching.
(Woman speaking in Spanish)


Vicki Marquez is less than five feet tall with heels on. Veronica Alvarado has tattoos and green highlights streaking through her hair.
Speaker 4: Do you see him? There’s a guy walking. He’s passing the vacuum in the second floor.
Sasha Khokha: The women are casing this office park in suburban Orange County, about an hour south of Las Angeles. Their undercover investigators with a tiny non-profit that’s trying to root out abuses in the cleaning industry.
Speaker 4: So we’re walking around the building to see the possible entry ways.
Sasha Khokha: [crosstalk 00:02:25] They’ll sometimes wait for janitors near garbage dumpsters or inside bathroom stalls.
Vicki Marquez: (Speaking Spanish)
Sasha Khokha: “Don’t run,” says Marques. “That makes us look suspicious to the security cameras.”
V. Alvarado: (Speaking Spanish)
Sasha Khokha: “Magic, magic,” says Alvarado. “The door is still unlocked.”
V. Alvarado: Bueno noches.
Speaker 7: Bueno noches.
V. Alvarado: Como esta? [crosstalk 00:02:48]
Sasha Khokha:


On this night, they find janitors who work 7 days a week without overtime. Others who have to buy their own cleaning supplies. But once in a while they’ll meet a woman who confides a darker secret, that she’s being sexually abused on the job.
Our investigation found that sexual violence is a problem at janitorial companies across the nation, from tiny mom and pop shops to big corporations. From companies that operate off the books to those with shares traded on the New York stock exchange. ABM is the nation’s largest janitorial company. It’s among a rare group of 15 American corporations that have been sued at least 3 times by the federal government for failing to protect workers from sexual harassment. ABM employs nearly 65 thousand janitors. They clean major airports, city halls, courthouses, and towering office buildings across the country. That’s the company Maria Magonia used to work for.
(Vacuum cleaner)
[00:04:00] [crosstalk 00:03:59] Magonia is a tiny woman in her 50s. She’s practically dwarfed by the giant vacuum cleaner she straps onto her back. She’s been cleaning office buildings in california for nearly 2 decades. We went on the job with her one night.
M. Magonia: I could leave it dirty. I dust most of the things. I even dust the signs, the office windows I clean them.
Sasha Khokha: Magonia even uses a plastic fork to scrap the dust out from the crevices in the window sills. The next day, we went to Magonia’s house. Even though she was tired from cleaning late at night, she wanted us to come early in the morning before the neighbors woke up because she didn’t want them to know what we were there to talk to her about. But when we got to her street on the rural edge of Bakersfield, the neighbors were already playing music and drinking coffee on their front steps.
M. Magonia: (Speaking Spanish)
Sasha Khokha:
Still, Magonia wanted to tell us her story. She says her supervisor at ABM used to harass her. When she started talking about that, she was much more comfortable in Spanish.
M. Magonia: (Speaking Spanish)
Translated: So I hit him with my broom and he said, “Maria, why are you so mad? What am I doing wrong? It’s just a caress. I’m just being affectionate.” I told him, “You get any closer and I will hit you with the handle right now.” I told him, “I’m going to spray this cleaner in your eyes.”
Sasha Khokha: But he didn’t stop. And in 2005, Magonia says he raped her. She took us to the bank building where she says it happened.
M. Magonia: (Speaking Spanish)


Translated: Every time I come to pass by this bank, I remember what happened. That’s why I agreed to let you tape me, so I could help remind women they should work in places that are well lit and they shouldn’t work alone.
Sasha Khokha: The building was closed, but she peered in through the tinted glass door.
M. Magonia: (Speaking Spanish)
Translated: Behind the stairs is the conference room where that man tricked me. Got me into that room. He shoved me as soon as I walked in and raped me.
Sasha Khokha: Magonia went to the bathroom, cleaned herself up, and finished working her shift.
Speaker 9: Did you have sex with Maria Magonia against her will at the ABM work site?
J. Vasquez: No.
Sasha Khokha: Three years later, government lawyers deposed Jose Vasquez, the man Magonia says raped her.
Speaker 9: Did you rape Maria Magonia at the ABM work site?
J. Vasquez: No.
Sasha Khokha:

The deposition was part of a class action lawsuit involving 21 women, including Maria Magonia. It was brought by the EEOC, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That’s the federal agency charged with protecting workers from discrimination. Anna Park was in charge of the case against ABM.

Anna Park: We did not believe they did all they could and they allowed these women, for years, to be abused.
Sasha Khokha: She says this was one of the worst cases of sexual harassment she had ever seen and showed how the company failed to follow its own procedures.
Anna Park: Any good company will say “Let’s investigate this. Who else is effected? What else is going on?” That didn’t happen here.
Sasha Khokha: The lawsuit claimed that ABM failed to protect the women from harassment and assault in the workplace. Fourteen harassers were named. A dozen of the plaintiffs pointed to one man, supervisor Jose Vasquez. The EEOC found some witnesses, too. Scott Stevenson was volunteering one night at a fundraising dinner at a church in Bakersfield.
Scott Stevenson: Sent some kids out to take some trash to the dumpster and they came back with the trash. They thought somebody was hurt in the dumpster area, so I went to go investigate, see what was going on and there was what I believed was a sexual assault taking place right in front of us.
Sasha Khokha: He saw a janitor he recognized as Jose Vasquez near the dumpster.
Scott Stevenson: I recall the belt not being buckled all the way on his pants. I remember that jingling.
Sasha Khokha: He says Vasquez was standing in front of another janitor. A woman.
Scott Stevenson: His arms were spread out, almost like a starfish, so he was preventing her from leaving that area. Every attempt she made he would grab her or grope her to get her back in front of him. She was crying. She was in tears. She had that help me look on her face.
Sasha Khokha: Stevenson threw the trash into the dumpster.
Scott Stevenson: That made a bang.
Sasha Khokha:


Startling Jose Vasquez, Stevenson called the police and in the report the woman said she was frightened. But when the police asked Vasquez to come to the station a few days later, he showed up with the woman. They both said they had just been playing around. The police dropped their investigation, but the church sent a letter to ABM reporting what Stevenson had seen.
Scott Stevenson: There’s no way that could’ve been consensual. I’ve never seen anybody have a romantic interlude by a maggot smelling dumpster.
Sasha Khokha: But ABM never interviewed Stevenson. A few months later, the company got 2 anonymous letters alleging that Vasquez was touching and harassing women and that he had a criminal record. “Help us,” said one letter. “Please, send someone to investigate.” But at his deposition, Vasquez testified that ABM didn’t ask him about the letters.
Speaker 9: Nobody from ABM talked to you about sexual harassment allegations in or around September of 2005, correct?
J. Vasquez: No, sir, nobody did.
Sasha Khokha:


And the company hadn’t checked his background when he was hired. Vasquez was a convicted rapist on California’s sex offender registry. Government lawyers deposed Timothy Brecky, then a regional vice president for ABM.
Speaker 13: I’m putting the exhibit in front of you to remind you that he was convicted of rape by force.
Timothy Brecky: I see that, yes.
Sasha Khokha: Brecky admitted that company’s human resources department didn’t notice that when Vasquez filled out his job application, he left the question about criminal history blank.
Speaker 13: So, the question is do you think it was a good idea to put someone who was convicted of rape by force supervising women alone in buildings at night?
Timothy Brecky: No.
Sasha Khokha: But Brecky asked why the women didn’t report their alleged attacks to ABM. For example, Maria Magonia stayed on the job with Jose Vasquez for a year and a half after she says he assaulted her.
Timothy Brecky: How these things were not reported in a timely manner, how there was no medical backup to some of these things. I just need to have more information.
Speaker 13: So it’s the fault of the women?
Speaker 15:

Objection. Argumentative. You may answer.

Timothy Brecky: I didn’t say that.
Sasha Khokha: ABM didn’t admit wrongdoing, but settled the case in 2010. The 21 women, including Maria Magonia, were awarded a total of nearly 6 million dollars.
(Spanish Speaking)
Five years later, Magonia still lives in a cramped house in Bakersfield taking care of her elderly mother and teenage son. She’s the only income earner and says that’s a big reason why she kept working at ABM so long after her attack. She still works as a full-time janitor and says she’s uncomfortable spending the settlement money from the case.
M. Magonia: (Speaking Spanish)


Translated: They can give me thousands and thousands of dollars, but to this day I can’t spend the money with joy because I see it as dirty. That money worries my pain. That filthy stain on my heart from that man who marked me. It won’t change the past or clean how dirty I feel.
Sasha Khokha: As for Jose Vasquez, he was never charged with any crimes related to the ABM case. We tracked him down, but it wasn’t easy.
Speaker 16: (dog barking)
Hi, pooch. Hi, puppy.
Sasha Khokha: Because of his previous rape conviction, he’s on California’s sex offender registry. But when we went to that address, he’d moved without notifying authorities.
Speaker 16: (knocks) Hello.
Sasha Khokha:



We finally found him at a new house, but he didn’t want to be recorded. He said he started his own cleaning company and he wanted to put the ABM case behind him. Some of those women, he told us, were just money hungry. A few months after settling the EEOC case, ABM was featured on national television. A show called “Undercover Boss”. ABM portrayed itself as a company that takes a lot of pride in its workers.
Speaker 17: Each week, we follow the boss of a major corporation as they go undercover in their own company.
Sasha Khokha: ABM CEO at the time, Henrik Slipsager, posed as an immigrant looking for work as a janitor.
Speaker 17: The boss will trade in his well manicured lawn and private tennis court for rolls of toilet paper and a squeegee.
Sasha Khokha: On the show, a woman janitor taught him how to clean toilets.
H. Slipsager: You like it, right?
Speaker 19: I love it. I’m telling you, I love it.
Sasha Khokha: She had only one complaint about the company.
Speaker 19: One thing probably ABM could do better is to have women wear pants, you know. Because if I have to run around and bend over I got to make sure somebody else, excuse my language, doesn’t see my behind or something like that.
Sasha Khokha:


In the end, impressed with her work ethic, Slipsager gave her a new uniform. A pair of pants instead of a dress. Slipsager and other ABM officials declined our repeated requests for an interview. Just before a deadline, they sent us their own video…
Section 1 of 3          [00:00:00 – 00:14:05]
Section 2 of 3          [00:14:00 – 00:28:05] (NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
Female: Request for an interview. Just before deadline, they sent us their own videotaped statement.
Miranda T.: Hi, my name is Miranda Tolar. I’m ABM’s deputy general counsel for employment law.
Female: Tolar outlines ABM’s commitment to a safe work environment, including sexual harassment training for employees and a hotline where they can report concerns or complaints in a hundred languages.
Miranda T.: We believe that our policies and procedures are the gold standard in the industry. Our systems work. In some cases, we have been made aware of inappropriate behavior and taken action. In other cases, allegations of wrong doing have proven to be false and even malicious. Often by individuals previously in consensual relationships that ended.
Female: ABM also sent us a letter saying our reporting is focusing on older cases, and the company has improved their policies and practices since the EEOC case was settled, but our investigation found lawsuits filed as recently as May 2015, where janitors say ABM didn’t protect them from harassment and abuse. In some of the cases, women say they were fired for complaining. The company continues to fight harassment cases aggressively, even after they lose at trial.
Maria B.: [Spanish 00:15:13].
Female: To this day, we are still fighting. They don’t want to accept reality.
Maria B.: [Spanish 00:15:18]
Female: They don’t want to lose.
Female: Maria Bojorquez is the mother of five and a grandmother. She says she was raped while working the night shift at the San Francisco Ferry Building. ABM investigated, but found her allegations inconclusive. Bojorquez sued ABM. In 2012 a jury awarded her more than $800,000. The company is appealing. When they went to court in May, ABM’s attorney told the judges her testimony wasn’t credible.
Male: She said I was sexually harassed on an ongoing basis for many months, but there was not a single other witness who ever saw any alleged misconduct toward-
Female: But would we expect another witness in a night time shift on a janitorial service where he’s the foreman and she’s assigned to a particular area?
Male: There are times that they are alone, but there are also times there are other janitors who are working in that same building.
Female: ABM’s lawyer admitted, though, that their workers aren’t always safe.
Male: ABM and its parents, because they’re also being sued, have tens of thousands of employees located across the United States and internationally, many who work in remote locations at night with minimal supervision. Bad things sometimes happen.
Female: But is there a way to prevent bad things from happening? How about the federal agency charged with ensuring workplace health and safety?
Jordan B.: My name is Jordan Berra. I’m deputy assistant secretary of labor for OSHA.
Female: If someone is raped at work, is that considered an unsafe work environment?
Jordan B.: Well, clearly it’s an unsafe environment is somebody is raped at work.
Female: According to estimates from the Justice Department, about 50 workers a day are sexually assaulted or raped on the job. OSHA doesn’t recognize rape as a widespread hazard. Until out interview, sexual violence against janitors wasn’t something OSHA had on its radar screen.
Has OSHA ever taken on a case involving rape in the workplace?
Jordan B.: Not that I’m aware of.
Female: It absolutely is a health and safety question. Yeah, I’m a little baffled by that.
Female: Lilia Garcia Brower heads up the team of grassroots investigators we met earlier. Called the Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund, it’s a joint effort by the Service Employees Union and some big cleaning companies, including ABM, that are undercut by outfits operating in the underground economy.
Lilia B.: That’s probably the number one competitor for responsible businesses are the companies who are paying cash, not paying taxes, not carrying workers’ comp, and frankly those are the types of cases where we’ve seen unreported rape and the more serious violent, physically violent crimes.
Female: Hello?
Female: [Spanish 00:18:06].
Female: [Spanish 00:18:08].
Female: Vicky Marquez and Veronica Alvarado signal each other with their headlights. They’re driving around office building parking lots at night, looking out for janitors. They’re only a handful of these undercover teams focused on a few cities in California and Massachusetts.
Female: [Spanish 00:18:32].
Female: Sexual violence has become part of the national conversation. Universities, the military, they’ve had to publicly acknowledge the problem, but there are some 2 million janitors in the US. The people who scrub our toilets and vacuum our floors. They can also be victims of rape. There invisible to most of us working on the night shift.
Male: KQED’s Sasha Khokha reported that story for us. Since this investigation first aired, ABM, the janitorial company, settled with Maria Bojorquez. As a part of that deal, ABM agreed to bring in an independent investigator to look into all of the allegations of workplace rape or attempted rape in California. Now, let’s bring in Daffodil Altan. She’s a part of the team that brought us Rape on the Night Shift. While working on the story, she realized that she had a source close to home.
Daffodil A.: We were starting to try to vet their stories. We were relying on court documents, on police documents. It just sort of … as I was having these conversations with some of these women, they started to feel a little bit familiar. They were monolingual, most of them Spanish speakers. I would call them, and we would really talk about other things, not specifically about the assaults because it’s a traumatic event. We would have conversations. They were going through a lot in their lives. I was like, this reminds me of my conversations with my mom. Then it sort of went off like a bell. Wait a second! My mom was a janitor. I know that.
Female: I worked night shift, 10 o’clock to 6 o’clock. It was a very stressful job.
Daffodil A.: You had to clean the mechanics’ bathrooms?
Female: Yes. Mechanics’ bathrooms and very filthy [inaudible 00:20:29] and disgusting.
Daffodil A.: She starts telling me stories about what it was like at night that are essentially corroborating what I’m hearing. I was in early years in high school, and what I understood was that my mom would get ready at nine o’clock at night and leave at ten and wouldn’t be back until six in the morning. As a kid, you don’t think about the work lives of your parents. You don’t think about what happens during those eight hours or nine hours at night, and I never had. I just knew that I didn’t like it.
Male: I’m wondering like how did this change the way you looked at your mom a little bit?
Daffodil A.: I think one of the things that changed was when I actually was able to ask her. I said, “Has anything like this ever happened to you?” What happened?
Female: He was so mean to me. Always send me to work in hard places.
Daffodil A.: Then she told me that there was a supervisor who had followed her around and was asking for things from her. She didn’t want to give in. He was aggressive. He was flirting. What he did was he then made her clean bathrooms for the entire shift.
Female: Because he liked me so much [inaudible 00:21:35] short and fat, and I have a handsome husband at home, so how [inaudible 00:21:40] somebody like that. I told him I come to work not to look for boyfriend because I have my husband at home. He was so mean to me. All the time he gave me the hard work, all the hardest place I can do. Monday, always give me bathrooms [inaudible 00:21:59] only bathrooms because he was so mad to me.
Daffodil A.: Then she figured out somehow that she could complain to the union. She filed a complaint. I said, “How did you figure this out? Was there a hotline? Did somebody give you that information?” She said, “No, I just figured it out on my own.” You know, she was vulnerable out there. Because she was doing so much for us at home, when she got home, she didn’t talk about work. She got the lunches ready. She made sure we all were going to go to school. It makes me realize that some of these victims that are in the stories … They have kids that we’ve met. The kids remind me a lot of what we were like.
Male: A big chunk of this story is about working moms. You’re a working mom.
Daffodil A.: You know, one of the most powerful things that comes out of my work and this experience is that my mom was doing the work that she was doing to make sure that I would be able to do work that I wanted to do. She didn’t want to be a janitor. Now that I’m a working mom, it’s going to be important for my daughter to see that I’m doing work that will hopefully help other people.
Male: It sort of feels like your mom laid down the foundations so you wouldn’t have to do that type of work, and also so your daughter wouldn’t.
Daffodil A.: Exactly. That’s what a lot of the women who we were meeting and who participated in these projects … that’s what they were trying to do for their kids.
Male: Daffodil Altan is a producer for Reveal. Thank you so much for coming in.
Daffodil A.: Thanks for having me.
Male: Daffodil was a part of a team of reporters and producers that includes Lowell Bergman and Andres [inaudible 00:23:31] from the investigative reporting program at UC Berkeley and [inaudible 00:23:36] of Reveal. The entire project was a collaboration with IRP, KQED, PBS, Frontline, and Univision. You can watch the Frontline documentary at RevealNews.org. When we come back we head to Asia to look into the dangers that factory workers are facing as they assemble electronics that most people can’t live without. You’re listening to Reveal.
Male: Hey, podcast listeners. It’s Cole [inaudible 00:24:05] from Reveal. For the past two weeks, you’ve heard us asking you for a big favor to take a quick survey. Tens of thousands of you listen to our show each week. We want to know more about you and what you’re interested in, so help us out. While you’re listening to this episode, head over to SurveyNerds.com/Reveal. You’ll have a chance to tell us more about you and what you think of the show. It’ll take less than two minutes. It’s quick. It’s easy. Your feedback will really go a long way. That link again: SurveyNerds.com/Reveal. Thanks so much.
Male: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. We’ve been talking about invisible workers today, people who work behind the scenes doing jobs that largely go unnoticed. Our next story takes us to Asia, where millions of factory employees assemble the smart phones, tablets, computers, and other gadgets we’ve grown to depend on. the labor laws in most Asian countries are less strict than they are in the U.S., and that means the workers are at greater risk from the chemicals they work with every day. Reporter Sandra Bartlettt traveled to South Korea, a place many people call the Republic of Samsung, for this story we first brought you last summer.
Sandra B.: I’m on a busy street in Seoul, outside the global offices of Samsung Electronics. Rows of people are sitting on thin cushions on the cold sidewalk, listening to a singer. I can’t understand the Korean words, but I can tell they’re sad. The song ends, and a man with short gray hair walks to the front of the crowd. [inaudible 00:25:52] Nods, and starts his story of a taxi driver’s fight against one of the largest corporations in the world.
Male: [foreign language 00:25:59].
Sandra B.: Wong talks about his daughter Yumi. She was diagnosed with leukemia less than two years after she started to work in a Samsung electronics factory. He describes how she died in the back of his taxi on the way home from a chemotherapy treatment. She was 22 years old. After Yumi’s death, Wong made a workers’ compensation claim. It was rejected, and he went to court. In 2011, the court said there wasn’t scientific proof to link the factory work with leukemia, but it said the constant exposure to constant chemicals had causer or at least accelerated the development of leukemia. Wong is still waiting for the compensation to be paid. Korean women who worked in the electronics industry have a significant higher risk of miscarriage and menstrual problems. That’s according to a study published in May of 2015 by the U.S.-based Public Library of Science. The data came from national health insurance claims between 2008 and 2012. The study pointed out that reproductive problems are warnings for other health risks such as cancer.
The morning after the memorial, I take a train to the city of [foreign language 00:27:14], and then a taxi to a three-story apartment building above a tire repair shop. There’s a folded wheelchair leaning against the wall at the  bottom of the stairs. I climb to the second floor apartment, take off my shoes, and enter a tiny room without furniture. [foreign language 00:27:33] Sits on a cushion against the wall hugging her knees. [inaudible 00:27:36] Looks younger than 38, her long hair pulled back into a ponytail. [foreign language 00:27:42] Was recruited by Samsung in high school, during the spring exams the company holds to find new workers. As many as 200,000 young people register to take the test each year.
Female: [foreign language 00:27:55]
Female: I thought five years will be enough time for me to make money.
Female: [foreign language 00:28:01] And wanted to come back and-
Section 2 of 3          [00:14:00 – 00:28:05]
Section 3 of 3          [00:28:00 – 00:53:00] (NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
Hun: Wanted to come back and do some business, or sell something with my mother.
Sandra Bartlett: Hun glued wires and electronic pieces onto a circuit board, using a cream she found out later may have been lead-based. She developed cold and flu symptoms, and problems with her menstrual cycle. Doctors couldn’t tell her what was wrong. In 2005, four years after she left Samsung, an MRI revealed a brain tumor and she had it removed. Now she has trouble speaking.
Hun: After the operation I found myself having become a disabled person.
Sandra Bartlett: Hun made a claim for worker’s compensation and was denied, but something has shifted in Korea.
Reporter: Electronics has officially apologized and promised compensation to workers who have gotten incurable diseases.
Sandra Bartlett:
In May of 2014, after years of ignoring the memorials and the demonstrations, Samsung’s Vice Chairman, Kwon O-Hyun, made a public apology for the sickness of its workers on national TV.
Kwon O-Hyun: Saying the company was sincerely sorry for having neglected the pain of the victims and their families, and for not having settled the issue earlier.
Sandra Bartlett: The company promised to compensate the sick workers, or the families of workers who died. I asked to meet with somebody from Samsung, but the company said an interview would interfere with compensation negotiations. It had one of its public relations staff, Park Jiyung, record answers to my questions. Park said Samsung is offering compensation because it’s the right thing to do.
Park: Not because we have any legal or court order mandates to do so, or even any scientific evidence to link these illnesses to the workplace.
Sandra Bartlett: She also says workers are protected form the chemicals they handle.
Park: All Samsung employees receive information through mandated training about the chemicals they handle, including possible hard posed by those substances.
Sandra Bartlett:

I wanted to see the training materials, but was told internal policies could not be shared with me.

Big companies like Apple and Samsung say protective equipment, automation, and air circulation protect workers, but the companies don’t manufacture all the components that go into their cell phones, tablets, or computers. There are hundreds of subcontractors who make parts for many companies. Even Samsung makes components for Apple phones.



The electronics industry is global and restless, like a flock of birds. When one company changes direction, they all do. Vietnam is the newest destination. Shift change at a Samsung factory near Hanoi is amazing to watch. Young women and men walking from every direction, hundreds of scooters buzz across the road like an advancing army. From the highway come the buses. Bus after bus after bus, snaking into the parking lot. About forty thousand people work in this factory. Divided by two shifts, that means close to twenty thousand people are starting their day.
For half an hour, it’s buzzing scooters, honking buses, and then it’s over and you can hear the birds again.
In a recent study of three factories, the non profit center for development and integration in Hanoi found many workers with headaches and dizziness and reproductive problems. The center’s managing director, Jung Bic Ang, says this is the first study to identify hazards in the industry.
Jung Bic Ang: It’s the new industry. There isn’t any research, but from our research we see that electronic is not safe.
Sandra Bartlett:


Jung says workers need to be educated about their work environment. Ted Smith is helping with that. Smith is an American environmentalist who started the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition in 1982. Today, he’s the coordinator for the international campaign for responsible technology. He travels all over Asia training workers, labor unions, and doctors about the risks of working with chemicals.
Ted Smith: We do a number of exercises where the workers get involved in mapping their own factory so that they can identify where the hazards are.
Sandra Bartlett: Smith says what’s missing from the training is knowing the names of those hazards, the chemicals.
Ted Smith: What we’re trying to do through this training is to develop enough pressure from the workers themselves as well as from other sources to get the companies to make this public.
Sandra Bartlett: In the meantime, a database of chemicals is being built. Smith is working with Northwestern University researchers, and environmentalists from around the world.
Ted Smith:


We’ve really had to do it from scratch. Now it has over eleven hundred chemicals on it. Many of them have very well-defined scientific data behind them identifying them as carcinogens or reproductive toxins or neuro-toxins.
Sandra Bartlett: Once the list is made public later this year, Smith hopes the companies will respond by revealing the chemicals they use. The next step would be to convince them to replace the worst chemicals and Smith says that’s where public pressure might make a difference.
Al Letson:





That story is from Sandra Bartlettt, an independent journalist based in Toronto. Her work was supported by the fund for investigative journalism. Since this story first aired, Samsung has settled with some of the families, but not all of them, and there have been some protests over the way company is handling the compensation, including a sit-in outside the company’s headquarters in Seoul that’s been going on for more than five months. They’re upset because Samsung will only negotiate with one family at a time, ignoring the mediation process with the larger groups representing the workers, and the company requires that the families sign a document that they are not allowed to have a copy of.
Back in a moment, this is Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.
Ali Winston: Hey everyone, it’s Ali Winston from Reveal. For the past year, I’ve been investigating a massive database in California that law enforcement used to collect information about suspected gang members and people they know. It’s called Cal Gang and it’s rife with problems. Not only has false information found its way into the system, it’s impossible to know whether you’re even in it if you’re an adult. Being included in Cal Gang can lead to extra jail time for those facing charges.



Right now there are more that a hundred and fifty thousand people in this database, and eighty five percent of them are black or latino, even though they only make up forty five percent of California’s population. There’s a lot to this investigation and you can get the full story on our website, revealnews.org/calgang.
Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. Today we’ve been hearing stories of workers that face dangers on the job. Dangers that most of don’t even know about. Part of the reason is that they work behind the scenes. They’re largely out of view, but sometimes they get thrust right out into the open.
That’s what happened on March sixteenth, 2010. There was a car accident in Manhattan. Not New York City, but Manhattan, Kansas. After investigating the scene of the accident, police end up at a house just down the alley. Here’s what the police wrote in a report, read by Reveal’s David Gill.
David Gill:



One witness advised that this particular residence was occupied by several Mexican males who worked at Bamboo Buffet. During the sweep, it was apparent that there were multiple people staying in this residence. Based on the statements, I believe that the Bamboo Buffet and the Hong Lee job agency are involved in human smuggling. I left the scene and contacted the I.C.E. tip line to report the incident.
Al Letson: The calls went to a Homeland Security office in Houston, and set in motion and investigation that would uncover a human smuggling network throughout twenty states. Reveal reporter Peter Haden, who works at the Houston Chronicle, picks up our story from there.
Peter Haden: There are more than forty thousand Chinese restaurants in the U.S., nearly three times the number of McDonalds.
Speaker 8: General Po’s Chicken [inaudible 00:36:33].
Peter Haden: But who is in the kitchen? In many places around the country, it’s an undocumented worker from Central America or Mexico. The restaurants and the job agencies that supply the workers call them “amigos.”


Cristian Troches was one of those amigos. I meet him at a Home Depot parking lot in Houston’s Chinatown. Cristian is undocumented. He’s waiting around for someone to offer him day work, like a couple dozen other guys scattered around. These days he’s doing construction work, but he use to work in a Chinese buffet, a job that took him all the way to Oklahoma.
Cristian: We were told they’d provide food and a good place to stay with our own beds, but when we got there they just gave us a blanket to sleep on the floor. Six or seven people sleeping on a blanket on the floor? We worked sixteen hours a day, and at the end of the month when we were supposed to get paid, the owners just said, “Get lost,or we’ll call the police on you.” We had to leave. Then we were in a big mess, without money, without food, with no support whatsoever, in Oklahoma, where we didn’t know anybody.
Peter Haden:


Cristian was left stranded and says he never got paid. He ended up on the street sleeping under some cardboard for a while. Then he hitched a ride back to Houston. It’s a story that many others share.
Luis: They offered me job washing dishes in a Chinese restaurant and they sent me off in the van.
Peter Haden: This is Luis. He’s also from Honduras, maybe five four, a hundred and fifty pounds, thick black hair, and a strong handshake. He’s friendly, but nervous about being interviewed on tape. We agreed not to use his real name because he helped law enforcement in their investigation of a human smuggling operation. The “they” he’s talking about is the Hong Lee job agency.
Luis: I got the job from those little cards they give out. I called and went to the agency.
Peter Haden: The Hong Lee agency sent Spanish-speaking recruiters to stand on Bel-Air Boulevard in West Houston. They handed out business cards soliciting men and women to work for about four dollars and hour.

They kept moving me around from one state to another.

Tulsa, Oklahoma. Enchanted, Oklahoma. Kansas, Concordia. Aqui en Houston, Texas.
Peter Haden: Luis said he stayed in each buffet from eight months to a year, then he was moved to another restaurant. That’s how he got on a buffet carousel, circling the Midwest for almost four years. Luis was lucky compared to some other workers. One guys place d in a Houston restaurant says the owner made him pour lye into a clogged drain. The chemical shot up in his face and burned his eyes out. He’s now suing the owners.
Another man’s thigh was gashed open by a potato slicing machine down to his femur bone. The restaurant owners got someone to drop him off at a hospital. Later, they denied that he ever worked there. That guy also sued and settled out of court.
[00:40:00] Ken Guest is an anthropology professor from Baruch College in New York City. He’s spent the last two decades researching Chinatown and Chinese-owned businesses in the U.S.
Ken Guest: I think the restaurant owners have found that the Hispanic Latino workers are actually willing to work for less than some of the Chinese immigrants. They don’t speak the language that the Chinese restaurant owners speak and so their even more vulnerable to labor exploitation.
Peter Haden: That’s exactly what worried federal investigators in Houston. After that tip came in from Kansas, homeland security agents in Houston sent a confidential informant into the Hong Lee angency. They told him to pose as someone looking for work. Within fifteen minutes he was in a car headed to San Marcos, Texas, about three hours west of Houston, with special agent Matt Baker in pursuit.
Matt Baker:

We followed him there, he was dropped off, we videotaped the money exchange, and within about ten minutes of his arrival he was at work washing dishes. There was no time for employment paperwork, no time for a job interviews, no health screenings, or any kind of training.

Peter Haden: Baker says for restaurant owners this black market for labor had advantages over your standard “help wanted” sign.
Matt Baker: That amigo is going to work twelve hours a day six days a week and keep their mouth shut.
Peter Haden: Malcolm Bales is the US attorney for the eastern district of Texas. He launched the case along with the Homeland Security investigators. They started looking at two job agencies in Houston’s Chinatown, Hong Lee and its’ competitor Tai Shan. Federal agents suspected the agencies were providing undocumented immigrant workers to Chinese restaurants.
Malcolm Bales:
For us to find out what was going on, we needed to understand the decision makers and who were their clients. How big was this case? Where were the customers located? Really, what was the nature of the transactions? That’s when we decided to intercept the telephones.
Peter Haden: Bales and the team of federal agents set up wire taps in 2012. They began listening in and started hear how it all works.
The agencies advertised openly in Chinese language newspapers like the World Journal. The ads used words like “Hardworking Mexicans and Central Americans,” “Transportation provided,” and all of it under the table. Bales says the clients would see those ads and start calling.
Matt Baker:


Typically, requests from the restaurateur for a couple of cooks or I need three bus boys or just giving a number. There would be a quick negotiation per head, price, and a delivery date and then the conversation would be over.
Peter Haden: The woman who answered the phone at Hong Lee job agency was Lina Sun. She ran the agency with her husband, Chang Lin Ma. To their Hispanic clientele they were know as Linda and Pablo. On this wired tap, you can hear Linda giving advice on how to handle the workers.
Linda: You have to be more mean. Don’t be too nice. If you are too nice, it’s not going to work.
Speaker 19: But you have to be nice to them. If they run away, you can’t run a business.
Linda: Listen, you have to use your head with those Mexicans, understand? You have to scare them a little, then you won’t have a problem.
Speaker 19: Okay, I get it. Let me see what I can do.
Linda: If you let them have their way it’s going to be a mess.
Al Letson:
Linda knew a lot about how to hook a desparate immigrant looking for work. She used to be one. She came to the U.S. from C hina in the 1990s. At first she babysat, and then worked at at store that rented Chinese DVDs. Her boss had a side business placing undocumented workers in restaurant jobs. He recruited Linda to help him, and when he retired, Linda took over the business. She issued each worker a contract. The list of jobs went from dishwasher, the lowest paid position, to prep cook, to fry cook at the top of the kitchen food chain. Linda was shrewd. If someone claimed to be a fry cook, Linda might grab his arms and hold them up to her face. “No,” she’d say. “You don’t have enough scars and burns to be a fry cook.”


People in the Chinese restaurant business all over the country knew Linda. Agent Baker and his team discovered that the Hong Lee and Tai Shan agencies had customer contacts for more than a thousand restaurants in twenty nine states. Agent Baker says his investigators sat down with one restaurant owner as far north as Brewer Vane.
Matt Baker: They asked her, “You have these two individuals from Houston. How do you get them here? How does this occur?” The managers response was, “Well everybody calls Lina Sun.” It was almost like a given. If you need amigos, you call Houston.
Al Letson: At least that was until one cold January morning in 2013.
Officer: Hello?
Linda: Hi, how are you? Good morning.
Officer: Good morning ma’am.
Linda: I’m sorry my [inaudible 00:45:43]
Peter Haden: A federal agent calls Linda from the side of a highway in Texas after one of her drivers got stopped by a state trooper. He had five undocumented immigrants crammed into his car.
Officer: Can you ask him where he’s going?

Oh. He go work in Arkansas.

Officer: Oh, he’s going to work in Arkansas?
Linda: Yeah.
Officer: What about the people in his car?
Linda: They go work in the restaurant. Go working.
Officer: Oh, they’re going to restaurant to go work?
Linda: Yeah.
Officer: Okay. Where did he get the people?
Linda: Oh, from Houston.
Officer: From Houston?
Linda: Yeah
Officer: Okay, well the problem is it doesn’t look like any of these people have got immigration status to be here legally. Right now he’s transporting undocumented aliens.
Linda: Oh. I’m sorry.

Okay. Would you tell him that, that we’re going to have arrest him?

Peter Haden: When the officer hands the phone back to the driver, linda speaks to him in mandarin. She knows she’s busted. It could be the end of the whole operation.
Speaker 19: What’s going on?
Linda: We’re busted. He’s going to get the immigration office involved.
Speaker 19: Really?
Linda: Grab all the receipts out of the car. Don’t give them to the police.
Al Letson: We’re in big trouble.
Reporter: Immigration agents raided more than a hundred places in the Houston area today. Investigators say the people involved were all in a massive human smuggling operation.
Peter Haden:




Nearly four years after the investigator started, Homeland Security raided the two job agencies. They arrested an indicted thirty two people. Linda and eight others were charged under the Rico Act. That’s a federal law used to target organize crime. The charges also included making money by employing, transporting, or harboring unauthorized alien workers. Authorities seized nearly four million dollars in assets. They also raided Linda’s bank safe. Special agent baker says they recovered nearly fifty thousand dollars.
Matt Baker: We believe she made a lot of money. Her cut was usually a hundred and fifty to two hundred per alien, but she could send out aliens on a daily basis year round. I watched on weekends, I watched her on holidays. Definitely not bankers’ hours.
Peter Haden: Baker says Linda sent much of her money back to China via Western Union. This type of bust is rare. In most of the country from New York to Los Angeles, job agencies like Linda’s operate in plain sight. U.S. attorny Malcolm Bales says the demand is insatiable.
Malcolm Bales:


While people seem to be upset by alien immigration, everyone likes going to eat Chinese food. They like eating it cheap. They like having their yards cut for cheap. They like having the construction costs of their home lower than they should be.
Peter Haden: Linda is now serving eighteen moths in a federal prison in Aliceville, Alabama. We wanted to talk to her, but she declined. Her attorney, Neil Davis, spoke to us instead.
Neil Davis: She was really a wonderful, kind lady. You know, what I would imagine a Chinese grandmother to be like.
Peter Haden: Davis says the Rico Prosectution was government overreach. She calls Linda nothing more than a matchmaker introducing people, tooling for a job to people looking for workers.
Neil Davis: She’s one of the clients that really sticks out in my mind as someone who was a genuinely good person, had a good heart. Her and her husband did a tremendous amount of volunteer work. They’re Buddhists. They would buy live chickens or whatever in the Chinese community, in the grocery stores, and free them because they were against eating meat.
Peter Haden:
Even though Linda is in prison, there are signs that the same type of operation is still going on in Houston. I got ahold of a little card recently that reads in Spanish, “Amigo work immediately. Dishwashers, prep cooks, and fry cooks wanted.” I tried to go to the address but it was fake, so I called the number.
Speaker 8: Hello?
Peter Haden: Hello is this the Houston Employment agency?
Speaker 8: Yeah. Yes.
Peter Haden: My name is Peter Haden, I’m a reporter here in Houston. What kind of jobs do you have?
Speaker 8: Why you doing? Why you looking? Why you doing? What do you do? Dishwasher, [inaudible 00:50:38], what you doing? What do you do?
Peter Haden: I am just trying to find out …
I was looking for information. Instead, I got offered a kitchen job. That comes as no surprise to U.S. attorney Malcolm Bales.
[00:51:00] What would you say if I told you that there are new employment agencies in H ouston handing out cards in Spanish looking for these kinds of workers?
Malcolm Bales: I, like I said, we didn’t stop it. All we did was stop those folks. The appetite, the market, is there for this cheap labor, and so as long as that exists and people think that they can get away with it, we could work these cases all the time.
Al Letson: That story was produced by Peter Haden, with reporting from Karen Chen and editing from Maria Carillo at the Houston chronicle.




Before we go, we wanted to take a minute to tell you about another podcast that you should be listening to from our friends and Long Form. They’ve got in depth conversations with the best storytellers in the world, including This American Life’s Ira Glass, “Wild” author Cheryl Strayed, and Michael Lewis who wrote “The Big Short.” You might like the recent episode from Brooke Gladstone from On the Media. She talks about being a bad waitress, her comic book, and career of decoding the news. Check out new episodes every Wednesday at longform.org and anywhere else you listen to podcasts.
Julia B. Chan was our lead producer on today’s show. David Ritsher was the editor and Deb George was the senior editor. Today’s production included help from Cole Goins, and Christina Jewett. Our sound design team is the wonder twins, my man, Jay Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs, and Claire “c-note” Mullen. Thanks to senior editor Andy Donahue. Our editor in chief is Amy Pyle and Christa Scharfenberg is our head of studio. Susanne Reber is Reveal’s executive editor and our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by Camerado, “Lightning.” Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. Reveal is the co-production of The Center for Investigative Reporting an PRX. I’m Al Letson, and remember there is always more to the story.
Section 3 of 3          [00:28:00 – 00:53:00]

Julia B. Chan worked at The Center for Investigative Reporting until June, 2017. Julia B. Chan is a producer and the digital editor for Reveal's national public radio program. She’s the voice of Reveal online and manages the production and curation of digital story assets that are sent to more than 200 stations across the country. Previously, Chan helped The Center for Investigative Reporting launch YouTube’s first investigative news channel, The I Files, and led engagement strategies – online and off – for multimedia projects. She oversaw communications, worked to better connect CIR’s work with a bigger audience and developed creative content and collaborations to garner conversation and impact.

Before joining CIR, Chan worked as a Web editor and reporter at the San Francisco Examiner. She managed the newspaper’s digital strategy and orchestrated its first foray into social media and online engagement. A rare San Francisco native, she studied broadcasting at San Francisco State University, focusing on audio production and recording. Chan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.