On February 17th, I had the chance to lobby state officials on the issue of combating wage theft. While I didn’t get the chance to meet with legislators (and thus met with staff/aides), it was still a really great experience overall.
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. Workers who are victims of wage theft may fear reprisal from their employers should they seek redress for their stolen wages, and many may not know how to obtain help in recovering losses. (Oregon Center for Public Policy, Fact Sheet)
Wage theft is hard to quantify but is an issue that needs to be addressed. There is so much that intersects with wage theft that makes the issue incredibly important. Immigration, language barriers, and documentation play into wage theft, as all three have the possibility of adding the vulnerability of a worker and increase the likelihood of limited resources for retribution.
Food security also plays into wage theft. During the summer, I worked at a food pantry as an intern and this was my first experience dealing with the issue of food security. The food pantry that I worked in served low income families and individuals, meaning that most of the people that I not only served but also worked with in the pantry had other jobs or were retired. Not getting paid at all or only a portion means that being able to keep up with bills, rent, food, etc is incredibly difficult. There were so many clients that came into the food pantry as a supplement to working and food stamps.
In my personal life, wage theft probably won’t be a big issue when I work. I am college educated, white, middle class, native English speaker, US citizen. I have access to resources and can act as my own advocate. So why would I care? Why should any one care? One reason is that by working to end wage theft, we raise the standard of work and business ethics, which will influence my work experiences because it helps to ensure that any job that I take in the future has a higher probability of being relatively decent wage.
By ensuring that wage theft legislation is strongly enforced (meaning that there are repercussions for employers guilty of theft, etc), more money can also go into the local economy. And at the same time, enforcement of wage theft could help to bring individuals and families out of poverty. The Washington Post has an article about how economists agree that raising the minimum wage reduces poverty but the minimum wage (while related) is another topic entirely. There would be massive impacts of bringing people out of poverty.
Ultimately, there is a lot that goes into wage theft that makes it a very pressing issue for many. For more information about wage theft, here are some resources that I have found helpful:
Interfaith Worker Justice – Wage Theft
Oregon Coalition to Stop Wage Theft
Northwest Workers Justice Project
Our Wage Theft Epidemic – Spencer Woodman