City Council Declares Wage Theft Crisis in L.A.
By City News Service
Declaring a “wage theft crisis,” Los Angeles City Council members joined worker rights groups Tuesday in calling for renewed efforts to punish employers who cheat workers out of their pay.
Wage theft occurs when employers pay less than the minimum wage, fail to pay overtime, misclassify employees as independent contractors or simply do not pay them.
Wage theft comes to an estimated $26.2 million per week in Los Angeles, according to a report put out by the Los Angeles Coalition Against Wage Theft, which includes the UCLA Labor Center.
The coalition also includes the groups 9to5, CARECEN, CHIRLA, the CLEAN Carwash Campaign, the Garment Worker Center, and the unions UFCW 770 and SEIU USWW.
Victims of wage theft tend to be low-wage workers, including those employed at car washes, restaurants and garment factories, the coalition said.
The groups were joined at a City Hall news conference by Los Angeles City Council members Gil Cedillo and Paul Koretz, who are trying to revive an earlier attempt to enforce laws against wage theft.
Koretz said workers lose money owed to them “due to violations of our state’s most basic protections.”
But the employers who are “bad apples know they can get away with it because the state bureaucracy is too slow to root them out,” he said.
“Wage theft has been a crime that is tough to remedy, because there is no easy method for workers to recover their wages,” according to Koretz.
Koretz said Los Angeles has the highest rate of wage theft in the country, with 80 percent of low-wage workers here victims of wage theft.
“It is urgent that the city do something about this very debilitating and devastating problem that afflicts so many hardworking people,” he said.
“Hard work should pay,” Cedillo said. “People who work hard in important sectors of our economy, the service sector, they should be paid a living wage.”
He said wage theft exists in many forms in LA.
“There are employers out there that take advantage of some of the hardest working and most underpaid employees,” Cedillo said. He said some of those workers are afraid to speak up because of their immigration status.”
He added that when people come to the United States to work and do not “comply” with immigration laws, “we throw them in jail, we separate their families.”
“And in the midst of this human rights crisis, at the very same time, we allow employers to exploit these conditions,” Cedillo said.
Koretz and Cedillo said the stealing of wages also hurts local economies because workers have less to spend at local businesses, and many employers are hurt because wage theft creates an unfair advantage for some businesses.
The councilmen want the City Attorney’s Office to work with police, the UCLA Downtown Labor Center and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network to craft an ordinance that would “criminalize the practice of wage theft in the city … and increase tracking and enforcement of wage theft.”
The council members said victims of wage theft would be able to report the violations to the city, but no other details were given on how the city could improve enforcement efforts.Print This Post
June 26, 2014 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.