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 www.facebook.com/ProtectOregonWorkers .