Alexia Fernández Campbell covers employment and workers’ rights for the Center for Public Integrity, one of the nation’s oldest nonprofit investigative journalism organizations. We focus on the causes and effects of inequality in the United States, and labor is a part of daily life at the heart of those conversations.
Over the past two years at Public Integrity, Fernández Campbell has exposed companies that violated the law by not granting paid sick leave to workers suffering from COVID-19, and others who accepted millions of dollars from the federal government to protect jobs during the pandemic, only to turn around and lay off thousands. She’s written about the disproportionate toll the recession has taken on Latinas, and has led an investigation this year on wage theft in partnership with The Associated Press and Univision.
Prior to joining Public Integrity, Fernández Campbell reported on labor issues at Vox, where she also investigated discrepancies in the official death toll in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Previously, she worked as a reporter at The Atlantic, National Journal and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. She holds degrees from the University of Tennessee and American University, and is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese.
We asked about her insights into the job and her recent work:
What motivates you to be in journalism, and at Public Integrity specifically?
A professor once asked me why I wanted to be a journalist. The first thing that popped into my head was: seeking the truth. To me it has always been about that. Telling the public what is happening and what government officials and powerful figures are doing behind the scenes. Working at Public Integrity gives me the time and resources to dig deep and uncover the truth, which is difficult to do when you have daily deadlines.
Is there anything in the course of your reporting, or experiences outside the job, that stands out as something that has resonated or helped inform your perspective on Public Integrity’s mission of investigating inequality?
I’ve heard people say that they don’t pay attention to what happens in Washington, D.C., because it doesn’t affect them. That blows my mind. After moving to Washington and writing about how policies are made and enforced, it’s become so clear to me that what happens in the nation’s capital impacts nearly every aspect of our lives. It’s our job as journalists to make that connection clear to the public.
What’s the most memorable or meaningful story you have worked on in your career?
I have too many favorites to pick just one. But one that comes to mind was my last project about widespread wage theft against mail carriers at USPS. I got more emails from readers than I ever have before — more than 50 of them. Most of the messages were from USPS mail carriers, thanking me for investigating the rampant theft and for helping them realize that their own struggles to get paid were part of a larger, more systemic problem. That’s the kind of impact that makes this job so rewarding.
You’ve done extensive reporting over the past year about wage theft. What are your biggest takeaways from that reporting? What are the biggest unanswered questions that remain?
My biggest takeaway has been this: Government institutions (federal, state, local) consider it a serious offense when someone steals from a business. They do not think it’s serious when a business or employer steals from their own workers. Wage theft is rarely treated as a crime, it’s rarely punished, and that explains why the problem is so rampant in the United States. I would like to know why, for example, the U.S. Department of Labor lets many companies pay back employees less than what they’re owed when investigators discover wage theft. I still haven’t gotten a good answer to that question.
Because Public Integrity is a nonprofit that doesn’t accept advertising or charge readers for our journalism, we rely in a significant way on donations from readers. What’s your pitch for why people reading this should support Public Integrity’s work?
Most media companies are focused on advertising revenue, which means they want reporters to write as much as possible and as fast as possible, so they can publish more content and get more clicks. Doing investigative journalism is expensive. That’s why there are so few jobs in this field. The kind of work we do at Public Integrity holds powerful people accountable, and in the process, it can empower those who often feel helpless. This type of journalism is worth investing in.
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