Last year, the Department of Labor (DOL) recovered nearly $247 million in back wages for more than 240,000 workers. Since 2009, the DOL has recovered nearly $1.6 billion in back wages for 1.7 million workers. These amounts are just a fraction of the amount owed to workers because of wage theft (employers not paying workers the amount they have legally and rightfully earned), according to Catherine Rampell, an opinion columnist at The Washington Post.
In July, the DOL ordered a private company that had been hired to run the U.S. Senate cafeteria to pay 674 cafeteria workers $1,008,302 in back wages after the DOL discovered that the company misclassified employees, underpaid employees for the time they worked, and failed to pay required health and welfare benefits since 2010.
Congress, as a whole, has taken little to no action to combat wage theft. In March 2016, Senators Patty Murray and Sherrod Brown and Representative Rosa DeLauro introduced the Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act to Congress. The bill would require employers to pay full wages owed to an employee, and would also impose civil penalties on employers for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. The bill does not have a good chance of being passed into law.
If you have questions or concerns about whether you are being paid properly and for all the hours you work, contact the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division at 1-866-487-9243. If you work in North Carolina, you can also contact the North Carolina Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Bureau at 1-800-625-2267.
According to a recent article in The New York Times (Sept. 1, 2014), more workers are claiming wage theft by their employers. Worker advocates assert that violations of minimum wage and overtime laws, erasure of work hours and wrongful takings of employees’ tips are increasing in volume.
David Weil is the director of the federal Labor Department’s wage and hour division. Since 2010, Mr. Weil’s agency has uncovered almost $1 billion in illegally unpaid wages, with a disproportionate amount of immigrant victims. Weil believes the surge in wage theft is due to underlying changes in the national business structure. As large employers increase franchise operations as well as use of subcontractors and temp agencies, these companies deny any knowledge of wage violations.
A federal appeals court in California recently ruled that FedEx committed wage theft by labeling its drivers as independent contractors to avoid having to pay them overtime. New York’s attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, has recovered $17 million in wage claims over the past three years and in Nashville last February nine Doubletree hotel housekeepers were paid $12,000 in back wages owed by the hotel’s subcontractor. Wage theft is prevalent in North Carolina as well. According to the N.C Department of Labor 2012-13 Wage and Hour Bureau Annual Report, 4,244 complaints were investigated. Out of an estimated $2.4 million due, almost 73% of unpaid wages (over $1.79 million) were recovered for 2,168 workers. To file a wage dispute claim in North Carolina, contact the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Bureau at 919-807-2796 or 1-800-NC-LABOR.
Kim Bobo, the Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice and the author of “Wage Theft in America,” recently spoke at Duke Divinity School and then at N.C. Central University School of Law in Durham, N.C. Ms. Bobo, who was awarded the Pacem in Terris Peace Award in 2012 (other recipients are John F. Kennedy, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King, Jr.), has a simple reason for the work she does: as a person of faith, she recognizes injustice and seeks to correct it. Wage theft, which is defined as stealing from workers what they have rightfully earned, is not only illegal it is immoral. She is simply trying to get people to do something about it.
In September a $4 million settlement was announced by the Harvard Club of Boston for not paying tips to its staff.
At N.C Central law school, Bobo spoke to students about waiters not getting tips, even though the restaurant collected those tips when the bill was paid, and asked if anyone in the room had experienced that type of theft. Indeed, one student shared a story about working at an exclusive club in South Carolina where that practice was routine. After reporting the problem and getting nowhere, he finally gave up and quit. He is still bitter about it. In September, a $4 million settlement was announced by the Harvard Club of Boston for not paying tips to its staff. Small amounts can add up for the employer.
Bobo gave some action items to the audience that I wanted to share with you. She said we need to:
- start recognizing the seriousness of the problem;
- start getting attention about the problem in order to fix it;
- stay focused; and
- if necessary, cross of the lines of our comfort zone.
For more information about Interfaith Worker Justice, go to: www.iwj.org/