Why Millions of Working Americans Are Not Getting Paid - And What We Can Do About It

Dark side of labor: Wage theft common among undocumented day laborers

The Mexican native had lived in the United States no more than three weeks when he was hired to work for a Manalapan landscaper. For $8 an hour he cut grass, whacked weeds, even did a little welding.

At first, his boss paid him a couple hundred dollars for his work, he said. But soon, pay day would come around and there would be no money for Garcia.

Garcia, 40, of Lakewood, worked for the company about a month and a half. Gradually, his unpaid wages grew to around $1,000 — approximately 125 hours of free labor.

“I felt impotent. It made me feel that I couldn’t do anything,” Garcia said Wednesday.

Out many days’ pay, Garcia had to turn to his friends for financial help. He never tried to recover his lost wages, partially out of ignorance of his rights but also, he said, because he needed to focus on finding another job to pay off the expenses he had incurred.

Garcia’s story is all too common.

Talk to day laborers and their advocates around the state, and the stories come pouring out: The cook’s assistant who was forced to continue working with a swollen, bloody head after the chef hit him with a heavy pan. The landscaper who pretended to run over his workers for a laugh. The construction worker who lost an eye when his boss refused…


State Probes Goodfellas Wage Theft Claim

After weeks of pickets outside two city restaurants, former workers who claim they’ve been denied $123,000 in wages have convinced the state to take a look.

The state is assigning staffers to probe the complaint of 11 former restaurant workers who claim they are owed back wages from Cafe Goodfellas and Downtown At The Taft, according to Department of Labor investigator Blair Bertaccini.

Bertaccini said Wednesday that he accepted the complaints and that they will be assigned shortly to an investigator or agent.

Immigrant and labor activists were already celebrating that news on Friday evening at a picket line in front of Cafe Goodfellas, a gangster-themed State Street restaurant where they have been holding weekly demonstrations with the former employees. (Pictured are two former workers from the Taft.)

To chants of “antipasto, anti-worker, boycott Goodfellas,” 15 supporters from Unidad Latina en Accion, the New Haven Workers’ Association and the ANSWER Coalition walked to and fro outside the door for one hour.

The activists were supporting 11 former restaurant workers…


NY Parking Garage Agrees to Pay $54K to Low-wage Workers in Lawsuit Settlement

Our Riverside, California labor and employment lawyers recently discussed wage theft in the workplace, after a University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) study uncovered rampant wage and hour violations in low-wage industries in California, Chicago and New York.

In related news, a New York City parking garage company has recently been ordered by a federal district court to pay 14 low-wage workers around $48,000 in back wages and liquidated damages, as well as civil money penalties after the company was found to have willfully violated the overtime compensation and recordkeeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

After a DOL investigation, Park It Management, Inc., was found to have willfully and repeatedly violated the FLSA by forcing low-wage workers to work over 40-hours in a week for multiple weeks without full compensation for all hours worked. In a recent Riverside employment attorney blog, our lawyers stated that the federal minimum wage is at least $7.25, and any hours worked beyond 40 in a week should be compensated for one and one-half times an employee’s regular hourly work rate. The company was also found to have violated the FLSA by failing to maintain accurate time and pay records for all hours worked, a legal requirement under the act.

The court’s consent judgment permanently prohibits the parking company from any future FLSA overtime, minimum wage, and recordkeeping violations, and prohibits the employers from retaliating against any workers who exercise their employment rights under FLSA laws….


Help an Immigrant Worker That Was Robbed By His Boss

Every week, thousands of the nation’s poorest, most vulnerable immigrant workers are robbed. By their bosses.

Immigrant advocates call the phenomenon wage theft, and it includes non-payment of wages, forcing workers to labor off the clock, or refusing to pay the minimum wage or overtime in accordance with local labor law. Luckily, most US workers never have to worry about it — but for poor and immigrant workers, recent studies have revealed that wage theft is all-too-common.

Researchers in Chicago believe that area employers are cheating around 146,000 workers out of wages every week. In Los Angeles, around 30% of surveyed workers were paid less than minimum wage, 79% were not paid mandatory overtime, and 71% reported working off the clock for no pay.

Another study of major urban areas found that the average worker had lost $51 in pay the previous week due to wage theft. For a poor worker earning $339 weekly, that means 15% of your pay was stolen by your boss…


Union-Busting Is Theft — a Weapon of Class Warfare from Above

Union-busting gives employers the means to manipulate the labor market in order to squeeze out more profits by paying workers less than what a free and fair market would bear. It’s wage theft of another kind – perfectly legal, but just as costly for working people.

As the drama playing out in Wisconsin shows, union-busting is not only a weapon in the class war being waged by the richest Americans – it’s also a means of waging political war on Democrats and progressive organizations.

The War on Public Employees

Both sides in the battle raging in state capitols across the country agree on just one thing: we are witness to a defining showdown pitting union-busting conservatives against the last group of American workers that enjoys a high rate of union membership, and the economic security that comes with it.

As I noted last week, 37 percent of government workers belong to a union, compared with just 7 percent of private-sector employees. Last year, more working people belonged to a union in the public sector (7.9 million) than in the private (7.4 million), despite the fact that corporate America employs five times the number of wage-earners.

Economist John Schmitt explained….


Workers Defense Project hosts workshop on worker rights

Last week the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement co-sponsored Abriendo Brecha, a three-day activist scholarship conference brimming over with presentations and dialogues about social justice issues all over the world.

One session hosted by the conference focused on a pressing issue right here in Central Texas, and one that may not always be on the radar though we are surrounded by it: working conditions and workers’ rights in the construction industry. The workshop was put on by the Workers Defense Project (WDP), an organization that partners with the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement’s Community Engagement Incubator Project. WDP works to empower area construction workers to achieve just working conditions, recover unpaid wages and establish better and safer industry standards. The workshop brought workers and advocates together to share their stories with students and community members and talk about why this work is so critical here in Austin.

One WDP member recounted his disheartening experience in the Central Texas construction industry and spoke about what they are doing to eradicate the dangers and corruption he has faced. Beneath the portrait of Cesar Chavez that hangs in the Texas Union Chicano Culture Room, he explained how he had moved to Texas several years ago and tried to find work in the construction business, only to discover that industry was markedly lacking in the necessary regulations and oversight to keep employers from being corrupt and conditions from being unsafe. He said that in Maryland, where he had worked previously, working conditions were much better because of mandated training and proper supervision to ensure safety standards were actually being met. This prevented the astronomical numbers of accidents and deaths that we see each year in Texas, where the regulations are not nearly as robust or as effectively enforced.

Wage theft is another huge problem….

WAGE THEFT: A new bill at the statehouse aims to stamp-out “wage theft” in Iowa.

The organization, Citizens for Community Improvement, have filed complaints against employers, and they support a new bill meant to combat wage theft.  Channel 13 was there Saturday, as workers took their complaints to the employers’ homes.

It seems like an odd way to spend a Saturday.  Handing out flyers that bad-mouth a guy to his neighbors.  But the Citizens for Community Improvement say the business owner who lives in the blue house could have avoided this.  They say he could have paid the guys he hired to do construction.

“At first he says we’ll pay you every fifteen days, and then fifteen days go by and we don’t get paid.” Says Jesus Vasquez.  Jesus explains that the boss owes him, and a few others, more than $3500.

Jesus says, “It seems like he owes me the most.  Ever since I’ve worked with him, he just kind of carries me along, just giving me little pieces of money and I never get the full amount of money that I was promised for each job.

Jesus and nine other workers represented by CCI need the money to support their families.  They are immigrants who claim to be affected by wage theft.  It’s illegal.  And it’s more common than you think.

Ruth Schultz of the Iowa CCI says, “We’ve had some other cases that we were working with low-income white youth who weren’t getting paid minimum wage.”

The law already penalizes businesses that don’t pay for hours worked.  It’s a $500 state fine for every infraction for every pay period.  Senate file would better enforce it.  It would protect workers who file grievances.

Ruth says, “But then also, workers can receive interest, up to two-times the amount that they were owed.” …And what he is owed, is what…


Wage Theft in Georgia

In part 2 of their investigation which we told you about last week, Randy Travis, a reporter with Fox 5 in Atlanta, follows the money on the use of undocumented workers.  In this case, 50 bricklayers from Mexico were employed to work on two school sites and the Gainesville, GA police department headquarters, but were not paid for the work by the subcontractor Surig & Sons who hired them to do the work. According to the video, even though the masons provided false papers, they were allowed to work on the projects and then were not fully paid by the company for the work that they performed.  Surig and Son owe workers $107,704 for the three projects.  That is wage theft and it is illegal in over 30 states….


I-Team: Hiring Illegal Immigrants Pt. 2: MyFoxATLANTA.com



Behind the Kitchen Door: A Summit on the D.C. Restaurant Industry

On February 14th Eatonville Restaurant, located in the historic U Street district, hosted an event to discuss the findings of “Behind the Kitchen Door: Inequality & Opportunity in Washington, D.C.’s Thriving Restaurant Industry.” This report, conducted by the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Washington, D.C., Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, and the Washington, D.C. Restaurant Industry Coalition, is the most comprehensive ever conducted on the state of the District’s restaurant industry and its implications for the economic development, public health, and working conditions of the community.

ILRF was eager to take part in this event and stand in solidarity with ROC members.  ILRF and ROC are both members of a new coalition called the Food Chain Workers Alliance and thus its important to connect issues of workers all along the food chain.
This summit was one of many being held on Valentines Day, which is the most profitable day of the year for restaurants, with similar events being held across the country, from L.A. to Miami, to discuss the findings of these city-specific reports, as well as a nation-wide report. The D.C. event included a great variety and caliber of panelists, including…


Walmart foes testify before City Council

Lawyers, advocates and former Walmart employees testified against the potential entry of the mega-retailer into the five boroughs before three committees of the City Council Thursday. As expected, their testimony was almost unanimously critical of the Bentonville, Ark.-based company’s conduct.

Several witnesses presented testimony, based on workers’ lawsuits, of what they charged were widespread labor abuses built into Walmart’s corporate structure. The allegations spanned the country and ranged from Walmart forcing employees to work extra hours with no pay, to repeated instances of management retribution against workers who tried to unionize.

The comments of Council members themselves on Walmart also skewed negative, with the exception of Queens Councilman Eric Ulrich, who said he supported the retailer’s entry into the city to combat rampant unemployment in his district.

“In this country, you’re innocent until you’re proven guilty,” said Mr. Ulrich, referring to various civil action suits pending against Walmart, many of which allege labor, civil rights and human rights violations on a company-wide scale.

Former Walmart grocery manager Sandra Carpenter said when she attempted to educate “immigrant employees not familiar with the rights that we are supposed to have in this country,” the managers at her store engaged in retribution by forcing her to work off the clock for up to two hours a day. She estimates she lost more than $4,000 in overtime payments.

Attorney Claude Leblanc, who represents 190 Walmart…


Dark side of labor: Though often cheated, humiliated, Morris day laborers have rights

Last summer, 40-year-old day laborer Uvaldo Garrido and a handful of other men were picked up by a Philadelphia contractor in Morristown to work on a roofing project.

The men were paid for the first full week of work, but at the end of the second week, the contractor advised the men the job was off. He drove them back to Morristown and never paid them for the last week of labor.

Garrido, 40, told his story while waiting for early-morning work outside the Morristown train station, bundled in layers of clothing in below-freezing temperatures hoping for a chance at a day’s work.

He was swindled out of his wages that week last summer, and should have earned $500; but, instead, was left feeling worthless and upset, he said.

“Imagine if you were (the one) working up high, taking out a roof when it’s really hot,” Garrido said. “He robbed us.”

Garrido and his work buddies did not report the incident for fear of their immigration status being questioned, and though they reported it to an immigrant resource organization, nothing came of that.

Talk to day laborers and their advocates around the state, and the stories come pouring out: The cook’s assistant who was forced to continue working with a swollen, bloody head after the chef hit him with a heavy pan. The landscaper who pretended to run over his workers for a laugh. The construction worker who lost an eye when his boss refused to take him to a doctor for treatment.

“They (workers) think they have no rights to ask for (the money). There’s a lot of abuses going on,” said Carmen Salavarrieta, founder and director of the Plainfield-based Angels in Action, which often advocates on behalf of day laborers.

A recent survey of day laborers compiled by Seton Hall University School of Law in Newark


Workers’ rights advocates address wage theft, safety

Members of advocacy group the Workers Defense Project hope UT students will consider their role in alleviating abuse and injustice against Texas construction workers.

At a meeting at the McCombs School of Business on Thursday night, representatives from the group addressed worker wage theft in Texas and the three workers who died during the construction of the 21 Rio high-rise apartment complex in summer 2009.

Workers’ rights issues such as wage theft are a major problem in the U.S., where 45 percent of workers earn poverty-level wages and 50 percent earn overtime pay when in reality 71 percent work more than 40 hours, according to the group’s presentation.

Katie Cullather, an intern and event organizer for the project, said 64 percent of workers have not received safety training and 76 percent of workers are not medically covered. An estimated 41 percent of workers do not receive rest breaks, while less than one-third of employers do not provide clean drinking water, Cullather said.

“We know that workers’ rights are important to students because construction is going on around campus, and as students, we walk around not noticing and taking for granted what they do,” said government sophomore Alma Buena and who volunteers with the project.

The project has worked on policies,…


Young Workers United Runs a Marathon, Not a Sprint, in Organizing San Francisco

Being fired because the boss doesn’t like you? Legal. Getting fired and having your check sent to you by mail? Illegal.

The audience is students, in an English as a Second Language class at San Francisco City College, who are taking in a “know your rights” presentation. They’re among hundreds last year who walked away from such sessions better prepared to respond to whatever is thrown at them by managers in this dog-eat-dog economy.

Josue Argüelles and Tiffany Crain, co-directors of the Young Workers United worker center, lead the presentation, calling on students to read questions about workplace issues. Then, by a show of hands, students say what they think is legal or illegal. Sometimes they act out a situation, such as Argüelles breaking a restaurant’s plate and Crain, playing the boss, telling him she’ll just take the cost out of his tip jar (definitely illegal).

The students are surprised that it’s legal for employers to assign workers more duties without extra pay or verbally abuse them. “It’s not fair, but it is legal,” Argüelles tells them in Spanish.

At the end, Argüelles and Crain tell the students that if they want to get together to fight unfair workplace behaviors, that isn’t something the bosses can legally stop. “One of your principal rights is the right to…


Workers’ Rights: The Big Picture

You don’t have to work at a think tank to realize that these are dark days for working people. To begin with, millions of Americans aren’t working. Despite recent economic growth, we still have more than four job seekers for every available job in this country.

Times are also tough for people who have jobs. Not for everyone: pay on Wall Street broke records last year. Corporate profits are up, but wages for the typical household are flat after you factor in inflation. Some observers actually expect wages to begin falling in 2011 under pressure from all those unemployed workers who are now desperate and willing to work for a lot less.

Clearly the nation’s deep recession has a lot to do with this grim picture. But many of you are organizers in low-income communities, and you remember that the situation for working people was pretty bad even when times were supposedly good. During the last period of strong economic growth which ended in 2007, median wages barely budged. Working age households never made up for the income they lost in the last recession. The impact of the income loss was blunted, for many families, by rising home values and opportunities to borrow. But now the bill for that has come due, and families are really feeling how far behind they have fallen.

So far, I’ve talked about outcomes for working people. But we’re here today to discuss rights for working people. There’s a strong connection. When people have their rights in the workplace enforced and recognized, economic growth means broad prosperity. A rising tide lifts all boats, the way it did in the decades that followed World War II. Working people get a fair share of the growth they helped create.

Today, that’s not happening. A disproportionate share of income is going to those at the very top. Working people don’t have the power in the labor market to demand a better deal. They lack that power because their rights at work are not being recognized.

Here’s a very troubling example. Recently, a consortium of researchers surveyed thousands of low-wage workers in America’s largest cities. They found that basic workplace rights are routinely violated. 26 percent of workers were paid less than the legally required minimum wage in a given week. Most were not paid overtime when they earned it.


Local workers forced to wait for Palm Beach County’s proposed ‘wage theft’ protection

Local workers cheated out of pay may have to wait longer for help getting their money after the Palm Beach County Commission on Tuesday delayed a proposed “wage theft” law.

Following pressure from business leaders and the Legislature, as well as a legal challenge to a similar law in Miami-Dade County, commissioners delayed a final decision on the wage theft measure from March 15 until June 21.

Backers say the law is needed to ensure that local workers get a day’s pay for a day’s work.

The proposal would establish a local process to help workers recover overdue pay without having to go to court or wait for state and federal investigations, which in the past tended to shy away from small individual wage disputes.

Business groups object to the rule, calling it an unnecessary intrusion into areas already covered by state and federal law. The Legislature is considering a proposal to forbid counties from passing wage theft laws…