What’s Worse Than Earning Oregon’s Inadequate Minimum Wage? Having it Stolen

Chuck Sheketoff

Oregon’s minimum wage falls far short of giving working families economic security, so imagine the difficulties workers face when they don’t even get paid the minimum.

A recent U.S Department of Labor study (PDF) reported that minimum wage violations — a form of wage theft — push families into poverty and create costs for the public. Minimum wage violations, the study found, increased poverty by 11 percent in California and by 32 percent in New York. The report also found a connection between violations of the minimum wage and increased use of certain public assistance, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

We don’t know the comparable figures for Oregon, but we do know that minimum wage violations take place in our state. As a new fact sheet by the Oregon Center for Public Policy shows, of 1,100 wage claims filed with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) over a recent 12-month period, nearly one in four of them regarded violations of minimum wage law. Those complaints, of course, are only the “tip of the iceberg,” because many workers who suffer wage violations do not complain for fear of losing their job.

Which Oregon industries give rise to more minimum wage complaints? Complaints of minimum wage violations filed with BOLI arise more frequently among workers in restaurants and bars and the business services industry — mainly office cleaning and staffing agencies.

The Oregon legislature needs to do right by workers. It needs to significantly increase the minimum wage, so that Oregon families have greater economic security. And it needs to put in place stronger rules to make sure that workers get paid at least the minimum. Lawmakers can do the latter by enacting the Fair Wage Recovery Act (PDF), SB 718.

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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