Anger Management: Mauricio Cruz Fights the Power on the Job
Mauricio Cruz doesn't like to talk about himself. He's a gentle person with big, brown eyes, seemingly incapable of malice. "I always tell the truth, so no one can talk behind my back," he offers quietly in a small office on Van Nuys Boulevard.
Sam Slovick Mauricio Cruz at California Workers Advocates
The 24-year-old documented Nicaraguan immigrant, at 5 feet 8 and 200 pounds, wears Santee Alley designer jeans, a bright blue Southpole T-shirt and white dress shoes. He has deep, unguarded eyes and speaks in a soft, functional English as he talks to his advocate, Mark Volper, a Moscow transplant who runs the California Workers Advocates office in Van Nuys.
"My grandmother taught me that you always need to be good to others, no matter how they're treating you," Cruz says. "If I can help you, I'll be blessed."
It's been more than four years since he left his grandmother, Ildefonsa Vasquez, in Corinto, Nicaragua, to work in the United States. In November 2008 he was hired at Printefex Inc., a print shop on Los Feliz Boulevard in Glendale.
Cruz claims that what seemed like a good situation eroded into a relentless cycle of abuse at the hands of his boss, Printefex co-owner Eric Ovanespour. But Ovanespour says that never happened: "I deny all charges. I very deny all charges," he says.
Cruz's duties included making boxes and posters and overnighting packages, working 13 hours or more some days. He says he cleaned the boss's houses on weekends, getting paid 40 hours weekly by check, the rest in cash.
Cruz says Ovanespour sometimes came to work very angry. "I was getting yelled at a lot because I didn't speak any English," he recalls. "He said very bad things to me."
Cruz says the verbal abuse segued into physical attacks, which he claims he endured for more than two years until he filed a case with the U.S. Department of Labor on July 6.
"The case is because my boss sometimes hit me," he says. "When I was cutting [boxes] my boss would come up behind me and wrestle with me. 'Don't you wanna play?' he said. He punched me so hard it broke the skin and left bruises. One time, when I working on the computer, he wrestled me from behind and I went unconscious for over two minutes."