Labor Cops Step It Up on Wage Theft, but More Work Needed

Dec. 19, 2017 -- The good news is that in 2016, state and federal labor departments and attorneys general recovered $1.1 billion in wages stolen from workers last year, which was an increase over the $880.3 million they got back in 2015.

But the bad news in a Dec. 13 Economic Policy Institute report is that that the recovery level is barely 2 percent of the total amount ripped off from workers in the form of minimum wage, overtime, meal break, misclassification and other violations. According to the EPI study, estimates on wage theft losses to U.S. workers range as high as $50 billion a year.

If you’re looking for another semi-troubling development, you can find one right here in California. We are one of 18 states in the country in 2016 that reported downturns in the amount of money it recovered for exploited workers.

Overall, we were 10th worst in the country, recovering 16.8 percent less in stolen wages in 2015 ($53.3 million) than we did in 2016 ($63.4 million).

Ohio led the league with the biggest drop off, of 72 percent (to $216,000 from $772,000), followed closely by Wisconsin and it’s horrible right-to-work governor, Scott Walker, who seemingly endorses corrupt employers’ right to steal from their workers if you look at his state’s record last year. Labor cops in Wisconsin only got workers back $1.2 million in their stolen wages in 2016, compared to $3.3 million in 2015.

The U.S. Department of Labor, meanwhile, in its final year under former President Barack Obama, stepped up its enforcement, from $246.8 million recovered to $266.6 million, an 8 percent increase, according to the EPI study.

If workers really wanted to go after rogue employers, the statistics from last year showed that they mainly had to go to court and do it themselves. According to the EPI report, more than half of all the stolen wages recovered across the country last year -- $695 million out of $1.1 billion, or 58 percent – resulted from the filing of class-action lawsuits.

In its conclusion, the EPI said that this “systematic violation of our nation’s most basic principle of labor and employment policy” – that is, if you work, you should get paid – “requires immediate action.”

Among the EPI’s suggestions: increase fines on criminal employers, more enforcement, and protect workers’ rights to file class actions.

You can read the report here:


                                                         --Andy Furillo  

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