Wage theft is a serious crime, so serious, in fact, that a court has ordered several New York-based franchise owners of Papa John’s to pay $500,000 to 250 workers. According to Laura Clawson of Daily Kos, owners have paid workers less than the minimum wage and work off the clock. One owner, Abdul Jamil Khokhar, was arrested and will spend 60 days in jail as part of a plea agreement. This story underscores the need for all American workers to understand wage theft and support their fellow workers when they are victims of such exploitation. Wage theft usually hurts low wage workers, people who have the most to lose. If we want low wage workers to be responsible, we need to ask their employers to do the same.
Writing in Huffington Post, Bill Quigley, a law professor, lists several sad facts facing American workers on this picnic day that is supposed to honor labor. I urge to you take a minute, review this list, and ponder its meaning. The one point I would like to underscore is this: While productivity increased 21% between 2000 and 2014, wages only increased 2%. To quote the Talking Heads, “Who took the money away?”
During his last State of the Union Address, President Obama declared that “America needs a raise.” Yesterday, he acted on those words. The president announced that salaried employees (5 million Americans) making as much as $50,400 would be eligible for overtime. As Laura Clawson of Daily Kos puts it, employers will no longer be able to use exempt status (salaried employees) to keep from paying overtime. This move by the Obama Administration (if it’s not overturned by a court challenge) will either give employees more money or more time off. The 40 hour week will again become meaningful to millions of Americans. It’s a good day for working people.
P.S. President Obama is featured in The Huffington Post on his overtime reform. The president express great confidence that he is doing the right thing for American workers: "That's how America should do business. In this country, a hard day's work deserves a fair day's pay. That's at the heart of what it means to be middle class in America." I agree, but would add that what the president is doing will also help the working class and the working poor, who are often victims of wage theft. We all deserve a fair day's pay.
Anyone who cares about working people needs to read Laura Clawson of the Huffington Post. Today she examines the state of Workers Compensation, which has been cut in 33 states. There is also great disparity between states and how they pay for injuries. Clawson points out that if a worker in Alabama loses an eye, she will be awarded $27,280. The same injury in Pennsylvania will be compensated at $261,525. Companies are paying less and less in damages every year and finding new ways to restrict workers' benefits. This story is outrageous, but it’s no more outrageous than stories of workers losing pensions or wage theft or union busting. Until American workers – white and blue collar – realize their common interests, employers will continue to find new ways to make them suffer. It’s easy to blame the super rich. They are acting in a way that makes sense for their interests and security. What is our problem?
Huffington Post reports* that hospitals are now part of the wage theft game. Many would assume that these are for-profit hospitals who only care about the bottom line. Instead, the culprits are not-for-profit hospitals, the kind that like to use words like care in their marketing. They’ve given a new twist to wage theft. Rather than cheat their own workers (which they may or may not do), they are garnishing the wages of low income workers who have no health insurance or insurance that does not cover all of the bills. Wage garnishment laws vary from state to state. Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri, and Alabama are most lenient in enabling wages to be garnished.
Some might argue that this isn’t wage theft because the charges are legitimate. Not so fast. Not-for-profit hospitals agree to serve the poor as part of their corporate charter, which provide tax-exempt status. Instead, too many of these “caring” institutions charge higher fees to those without insurance and sue to take a large part of their wages. Again, no one is saying that patients shouldn’t pay all or part of what is owed. The problem is that large hospitals that are supposed to serve the poor seem to be going out of their way to punish that’s wrong. That’s wrong.
Deadspin has linked to a report from the Tampa Bay Times, which has conducted an investigation on a church that uses its flock as indentured servants. According to the report, New Beginnings takes in homeless people and addicts, confiscates their government aid, and makes them work at menial jobs for their keep. Some of their assignments include working concessions for local pro sports teams. The NFL, MLB, and NHL are not directly involved, but these organizations and team owners need to look into this matter. I’ve written before about wage theft, which is horrible. At least those employees are free to work at another job. In this case, it seems that an alleged church has ignored both legal and moral condemnations of such behavior.
Reporting in Daily Kos, Meteor Blade compares robbery at gas stations with wage theft in the oil industry. Oil companies lost nearly $57 million in robberies, which was probably covered by insurance. Workers lost $185 million in wage theft. They were not covered by insurance. Blades quotes his colleague Laura Clawson who says that 64% of low wage workers are impacted by wage theft. It makes one wonder why gas prices are so high. Maybe the big oil companies aren’t stealing enough from their workers.
Amy Eddings of Ring of Fire reports on the amazing scope of wage theft. Citing a study by the Economic Policy Institute, Eddings writes that the total amount workers lose through wage theft could be 2-3 times greater than criminal theft as measured by the FBI. Federal and state governments are making efforts to recover lost wages, but those efforts are understaffed. This story reminds us that workers are not just fighting low wages and poor working conditions. Some employers are stealing their employees’ labor. Shouldn’t they be treated like any other thief?
The great labor reporter Michelle Chen has written a piece for The Nation that examines the use of temporary labor. She breaks out the various methods large companies use to pay less and not be responsible for worker safety issues or unemployment claims. Many contingent workers have experienced wage theft. In essence, these workers are meant to be replaceable at a moment’s notice. Chen gives a great overview of this disgusting system. I strongly recommend her article.
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