Waging a Winning Fight Against Wage Theft

Chuck Sheketoff

As OCPP wrote recently, research shows that wage theft is a widespread problem in Oregon and the nation. Wage theft occurs when employers pay workers less than the minimum wage, don't pay time-and-a-half for overtime hours, cheat on the number of hours worked, steal tips or don't pay workers at all.

One victim of wage theft, though, waged a fight to make things right for herself and her co-workers. And she won.

As reported by We Are Oregon, Carmen Lopez works at the Beaches restaurant located inside Portland International Airport. In a video Lopez explained the wage theft and working conditions at the restaurant. She told how her employer routinely required workers to work off the clock, not paying them for an additional 15 to 30 minutes each day when they were asked to come in early and do prep work before their “work day” started. Lopez also explained how the employer required Lopez and co-workers to work without a break. And Lopez knew that previous workers’ complaints went unheeded or were even ridiculed.

But Lopez took a stand and publicly challenged her employers. With the help of We Are Oregon, she filed a complaint with the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI), helped organize a protest outside another Beaches location, and launched a petition drive to pressure Beaches.

And it worked. As noted in an updated video from We Are Oregon, last week Beaches wrote Carmen a check for unpaid wages and ended the practice of requiring workers to work off the clock.

We Are Oregon is a member of the Oregon Coalition to Stop Wage Theft. The Oregon Coalition to Stop Wage Theft is fighting for policies that deter this illegal practice that steals from the most vulnerable workers and puts honest employers at a competitive disadvantage.

While we need still need policies that better deter wage theft, Carmen Lopez and We Are Oregon have shown us how to wage a fight against wage theft and that winning is possible.

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 www.ocpp.org.

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    The Portland Jobs with Justice Faith-Labor Committee reportedly is going to take up wage theft more actively and is energized by the issue.

    It should be noted that a number of Bain Capital owned companies have faced wage theft legal actions in recent years.

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