Today Rep. Phil Hare (D-IL) introduced the Wage Theft Prevention and Community Partnership Act, which would authorize the U.S. Department of Labor to establish a competitive grant program to prevent wage theft. The bill would expand the efforts of enforcement agencies and community organizations to educate workers about their rights and the remedies available to them.
A landmark study of low-wage workers conducted by UCLA, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the National Employment Law Project found that 15 percent of workers’ wages are stolen on average each week. The Wage Theft Prevention and Community Partnership Grant Program would provide vitally needed resources to worker centers, legal clinics, and other local groups to educate and assist workers victimized by wage theft.
“Wage theft is rampant across the United States and leaves millions of Americans vulnerable to economic insecurity,” Hare said, “The escalation of this despicable practice is deserving of Congressional action and I am proud to stand up for American workers…. Wage theft not only hurts our workers but also good employers who play by the rules and are put at a competitive disadvantage. As we all grapple with the challenge of reducing our deficit, wage theft is only making matters worse, depriving the U.S. treasury of owed tax dollars.”
“We are thrilled with Rep. Hare’s leadership in battling the scourge of wage theft,” said Ted Smukler, Public Policy Director for Interfaith Worker Justice. “Worker centers and local labor unions know which industries and employers routinely steal wages. In partnership with the reinvigorated Department of Labor under the leadership of Hilda Solis, we can strike a major blow against this crime wave.”
“Even with the welcome increases Secretary Solis has implemented, there remain only a thousand Wage and Hour investigators to protect 135 million workers across the country,” said Kim Bobo, Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice and the author of Wage Theft in America: Why Millions of Working Americans Are Not Getting Paid—And What We Can Do About It. “Clearly the DOL can’t educate and protect 135 million workers all by itself.”
Bobo likened the new legislation to community policing. “Police departments across the country have learned the value of community policing initiatives and consequently have invested federal dollars in building those partnerships,” she said.
The Department of Labor already provides grants to community-based organizations and labor-management partnerships for job development – through the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) and to community groups to do health & safety trainings – through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
“There’s a vibrant network of worker centers and legal clinics on the ground level helping to fill in the gaps, but they are woefully under-resourced,” said Dianne Enriquez, who coordinates a national network of worker centers affiliated with Interfaith Worker Justice.
Interfaith Worker Justice is organizing a Wage Theft National Day of Action on November 18 in more than 50 cities across the country to highlight the extent of the crisis and the need for vigorous local, county, state, and federal initiatives to stop it. On the same day, a major statement from prominent business leaders condemning wage theft will be released.