Wage Theft

The story of wage theft seems to be less about the usual culprits—giant corporations—and more about specific local employers. But not entirely. Our favorite employer Walmart (where the highest paid takes home well over a thousand times what a beginning worker gets) regularly gains fame for such things as failure to pay for overtime worked, slavery-like conditions, or various brands of discrimination and cheating. That’s wage theft.

Wage theft means under-paying workers, or not paying them at all. In all places it is a crime, a crime that unethical employers get away with because their victims are the most vulnerable and powerless workers there are. Wage theft happens coast to coast, but more often in the coastal cities, with smaller employers, where anonymity offers a degree of shelter from the law.

Needless to say, this is about as sleazy as possible, but that doesn’t prevent it from being all too common. Isn’t it discouraging that, no matter how low, there are always people who will do virtually anything imaginable for unearned money?

How much money are we talking about? Big bucks. In California alone, the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement found that $22-million was owed in 2009 to workers from wage theft. And that was only the ones who got caught. The real number is probably much higher. In New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, an estimated $56.4-million is stolen every week. In the small city of San Francisco, 520 businesses have been the subject of minimum wage complaints in seven years. There should probably be many more, but the undocumented dishwashers and unschooled floor cleaners risk much if they complain.

What does all this say about Republican/Tea Party efforts to reduce governmental spending, including such things as labor enforcement? And Republican distaste for such “socialist” things as labor unions, with their outrageous demands for reasonable pay? If these right-wing political forces get what they want—insufficient governmental enforcement—how will that help us?

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