Texas, New York, and other states recently passed a law making wage theft much more difficult for employers, but are finding that there are significant barriers to effectively preventing the practice. According to the New York Times, problems faced when trying to tackle the wage theft problem are that prosecutors and law enforcement feel as though there are more important crimes to tackle, undocumented workers fear retribution if they report their employers, and that many are uncertain of the actual laws that protect laborers. For these reasons, many non-profit and religious organizations are taking great strides in pushing cities and states to enforce their labor laws.
Common forms of wage theft are non-payment of overtime, rest break and off-the-clock violations, failing to pay workers after their departure, underpayment for all the hours worked, not paying minimum wage, and not paying a worker at all. The Wage Theft Prevention Act was proposed to Congress in 2009, aiming to amend the Port-to-Portal Act of 1947 to extend the statute of limitations for some actions under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This law was proposed but not voted on, so it has since been stricken from the books. It may still be re-presented to Congress under a different number. In the New York and Texas wage theft laws, workers have to receive yearly pay notices, proper wage statements, and be free from retaliation for complaining about possible violations of labor laws.
The National Employment Law Project (NELP) conducted a study on the hardships that blue collar workers face on a daily basis, and the results were staggering. In a 2008 survey of 4,387 workers in low-wage industries in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City, it was found that 68% of the surveyed workers had at least one pay-related violation in the last week. These instances of wage theft amounted to around 15% of each worker’s yearly earnings. After the realization of how widespread these violations are, many organizations mobilized to try to defend workers. These advocates include U.S. Representatives, state Senators, the Workers Defense Project, faith-based organizations, and interfaith social justice groups are working to ensure that the rights of hourly workers are protected.
Labor rights are protected countrywide under the FLSA, but states may (and do) pass legislation that changes or improves aspects of these federal guidelines. Due to the sometimes wide disparity between the national minimum standard and that of individual states, many workers and employers do not have an accurate knowledge of the labor laws that apply to them. If you believe that you or a loved one has been taken advantage of by an employer, contact a knowledgeable FLSA attorney to see if you are eligible to receive back pay for unpaid wages, underpayment, or unpaid overtime.