Help Workers and Honest Businesses by Stopping the Wage Thieves

Chuck Sheketoff

Take note: This legislative session will reveal which lawmakers are soft on crime. It will reveal which lawmakers are anti-business. And it will reveal which lawmakers will look the other way in the face of thievery that steals from those among us who have the least.

Wage thieves have sprouted across the nation like bedbugs. But sadly, their criminal activity — which predominantly hurts the lowest-paid workers — has received far less media attention than the other creepy crawlers.

Wage theft (PDF) occurs when employers pay workers less than the minimum wage, don’t pay time-and-a-half for overtime hours, cheat on the hours worked, require employees to work off the clock, steal tips or don’t pay workers at all.

In a landmark study (PDF) published last year, researchers from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) surveyed workers in low-wage industries in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City. More than two-thirds of the workers reported having been the victim of some form of wage theft in the previous week. The study estimated that that the affected workers lost an average of $2,634 annually due to the theft, out of total earnings of $17,616. That means that about 15 percent of their wages were stolen.

The prevalence of wage theft reflects, in part, the rise of subcontracting and temporary work arrangements. In these situations, workers are more vulnerable to exploitation.

Wage theft robs workers and the economy. Wage theft forces the majority of employers — the honest ones — into unfair competition with those who cheat. Wage theft drives down wages and labor standards. Wage theft diverts dollars that would otherwise flow to the poorest communities where the victims live. And with wage theft, the taxes that would have been paid on the stolen wages never materialize.

That’s why a number of organizations have joined together as the Coalition to Stop Wage Theft.

The campaign is backing a set of bills (PDF) that would protect the rights of contingent workers and day laborers, regulate construction labor brokers and enhance the ability of workers to combat wage theft.

The campaign is holding town halls in a number of communities in Oregon so that workers and honest businesses can share their stories and help the Legislature understand the problem. Here are the times and locations:

Woodburn: Thursday, March 31, 2011 (6 - 8 p.m.), at PCUN, 300 Young St (PDF of flyer)

Portland: Thursday, April 7, (6:30 - 8 p.m.), at Waverly Heights United Church of Christ, 3300 SE Woodward St.

Redmond: Tuesday, April 12, 2011 (6 - 8 p.m), at Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 290, 2161 SE 1st Street

Come out and learn more. And join the fight to stop the wage thieves!

For more information on the coalition go to .


Oregon Center for Public PolicyChuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at

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    (Sarcasm Alert.) Well, obviously Chuck if employers are required to adhere to wage and hours laws then they will obviously have to lay off other workers to meet their legal obligations. Obviously, with your insistence on lawful practices, you are promoting a job-killing agenda here, obviously. Have you thought of that, huh?

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    I also have to ask, "Really, Chuck, have you ever owned a small business?" Really - I want to know.

    Don't say something is "good for small business" when you're on the exact opposite side of the issue - it makes you a liar, and I can't trust the other, reasonable points you might be making.

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        I've often written about small business (as an attorney and CPA, I also counsel small business owners). You can make your points, and even name them as you wish ("Wage Theft" is appropriately inflammatory for your purposes it seems), but to make unsubstantiated and controversial claims about "good for small business" is absolute hubris. I'll listen to your pro-labor stance, and even agree with you when the logic is valid. I'm not your enemy.

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          "Wage theft (PDF) occurs when employers pay workers less than the minimum wage, don’t pay time-and-a-half for overtime hours, cheat on the hours worked, require employees to work off the clock, steal tips or don’t pay workers at all."

          Martin, do you not agree that the listed actions are theft? Do you believe that employers should face no repercussions for such actions?

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            Getting back to my original objection concerning obvious pro-labor advocates pontificating what is "good for business"...

            There are business organizations that have the legitimate authority to say what is "good for business."

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              Oh, so because Chuck has what you consider a "pro-labor" viewpoint, his fact-based argument has not merit?

              Isn't it possible to be both pro-labor and pro-business?

              You've used this attack against him for being a "pro-labor advocate" as an excuse to avoid discussing his main point: Employers who steal wages from their employees may receive some gain for themselves, but they hurt the overall business community, just as an employer who steals supplies hurts the entire business community.

              You've also failed to answer my question: Do the actions listed by Chuck (paying less than minimum wage, not paying time-and-a-half for overtime, cheating on hours worked, forcing employees to work off the clock, stealing tips, or not paying employees at all) constitute theft?

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                Michael, read my original comment - I only picked one fight. (Which I have supported.) From a pro-labor pov, all of the things you listed are admirably reasoned.

                "Business" probably sees it otherwise. (I'll let the pro-business lobby make their own case.)

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      Hey Martin, The harmful effects of wage theft as Chuck is describing it is pretty basic to small business economic success on at least 2 levels. If my competitor is installing stolen auto parts, then I and all other law-abiding auto repair businesses in the region are placed at a competitive disadvantage and will be less profitable. The same would be true of stolen wages, correct? Second, unless your customer base is exclusively multi-millionaires or $1 burger consumers, your business relies on a steady stream of customers able to afford your products or services. The more your customer's buying power is eroded, for example by stealing wages owed, the less successful your small business can become. I'm squarely with Chuck on this one.

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        Jim, I appreciate your "auto parts" example, and certainly can't disagree, but "employees" is not of the same caliber. Here are some short explanations of the nuances that surround the issue: and and

        Notice, I am not taking a position counter to yours - only more complicated.

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          Martin, you complain about "nanny-state protections". Do you really believe that business owners shouldn't have an obligation to provide a safe work environment? Do you really believe that business owners shouldn't have an obligation to pay employees wages that have been promised to them? Do you really believe that business owners should be free to pay the lowest wages they can get away with?

          Your position doesn't seem to be more complicated. It actually seems quite simple--business owners should be allowed to get away with whatever want.

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            Business is “Rule Of Law” - it has no other moral, ethical, or parochial obligations. If for your own selfish reasons you think employees should receive additional benefits, then society has the obligation to provide them - NOT business owners.

            However, every State has the right to determine their own Rule Of Law. Oregon’s business environment will attract some businesses and drive out others. It's "complicated" if you want it all.

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              "Business is “Rule Of Law” - it has no other moral, ethical, or parochial obligations."

              Remind me to avoid doing business with you in any way.

              You do realize, don't you, that people who think the way you do are the reason why government regulation of business is necessary.

              If business owners acted as though they had moral and ethical obligations, there would be little need to regulate them.

              But the fact is, too many of them don't, so they pollute the environment until the government forces them to stop, they have unsafe work environments until the government forces them to stop, and they sell unsafe products until the government forces them to stop.

              Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. According to your worldview, the owners of the factory bear no responsibility for the deaths of the 146 workers who died there.

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                Your selfish interests are of great concern to you and others. My selfish interests are of great concern to me and others. That's why we vote - to see whose selfish interests win. Other than the Rule Of Law, I have not agreed to abide by any of your selfish interests, nor you mine.

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                  Tell me, Martin, how is making sure that the air WE ALL breathe is a "selfish interest"?

                  How is seeking to make sure that ALL employees enjoy a safe environment a "selfish interest"?

                  How is seeking to require that ALL products are safe to use a "selfish interest"?

                  I understand that there is a strain of libertarianism that is unable to understand that there are people in this world who care about more than themselves. You appear to be in that camp.

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                    Are you finding it difficult to believe that there are people who think differently than you? Who have different values, goals, and ambitions?

                    FYI, I'm a hard Liberal - but I stop at Marxism. If you'd like to read some of my editorials:

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                      Martin, answer the damn questions.

                      How are those things "selfish interests"?

                      How is requiring a business to operate a safe work environment a "nanny-state protection"? Do you really believe that all workers should just take any risks that come their way and not complain about it?

                      From what I've read, you're hardly a liberal, you're a right-wing libertarian who places capital above people. You're free to feel that way, but at least have the guts to own up to it.

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                        Is bullying the entire extent of your argument?

                        I'll read your political philosophy - give me a link to your original writings. I'll post my rebuttals there.

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                          My, don't you have a thin skin. Since when is asking you to actually address the issues raised "bullying"?

                          And, sorry, I don't have a page with my political philosophy. You'll have to actually address what I write here.

                          I have asked you repeatedly to explain yourself regarding your attacks against Chuck's post, but you have failed to do so.

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                      Martin, it's hard to take someone seriously who equates requiring businesses to pay employees what they're owed to "Marxism".

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      Martin, you quote "good for small business" but Chuck does not use that phrase. and yet below you demand someone respond to that. you claim, without basis, that Chuck is "on the exact opposite side of the issue" - presumably the "what is good for small business" issue. that's not factual; it's a matter of opinion. calling Chuck a "liar" based on that is groundless & indefensible.

      but i'm sure you'll try.

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    What I have never understood is why movie theater employees and many agricultural workers are exempt from FLSA overtime pay requirements. Talk about wage theft. Many movie theater employees are younger and vulnerable to these unscrupulous practices, yet they are exempt from being paid overtime. Same situation for Ag workers. What's the reason behind not paying these workers a fair wage?

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      Hey John, There is another category of worker in Oregon exempted from minimum wage and over-time requirements: new car dealership repair technicians. Most auto repair technicians are paid on a "flat rate" (affectionately know as "flat rape") basis. (Not so at our store, BTW.) If a tech performs 8 hours of BILLED work in a day, they get paid for 8 hours. If they only get 2 hours of work, they get paid for 2 hours. Many dealerships keep a "stable" of techs on hand in case customers come in, but frequently there isn't enough work for everyone to make a minimum wage for the day or week. The Oregon BOLI rule is that the shop has to make up the difference to equal minimum wage, including any overtime. New car dealerships have gotten themselves exempted from this rule. This special treatment puts the rest of the industry at a competitive disadvantage.

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    This is the anniversary of the shirt waist fire one hundred years ago that caused the deaths of 146 workers who had been locked in by factory owners. Being paid .13 per hour and working 13 hour days their owners claimed that they had to be locked in to prevent theft. After the fire the loss of inventory was found to be twenty dollars over a one year period.

    Frances Perkins who became FDR's Secretary of Labor witnessed the fire. Check it out on today's Democracy Now. Listen on KBOO at 4:00 pm if you are driving.

    I mention this in memory of Heidi Tauber and the countless thousands who have struggled against the mentality of Mr. Hash for more than one hundred years. We are losing this battle. Please focus on what really makes a difference. And Chuck is doing that.

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