Any employer that would do this is scum.
[Wage theft] reflects a changing economy in which low-wage work has increased, more companies try to cut labor costs to stay afloat in a sour business climate, and fewer workers belong to unions that might protect them. At the same time, budget-cutting state and federal governments do not enforce wage laws as aggressively as they once did.
Wage theft can be as simple as stealing tips from restaurant servers, illegal deductions from a worker’s paycheck or failing to pay overtime or the legal minimum wage. It also can take other forms, such as classifying workers as “independent contractors” to avoid paying unemployment insurance.
Millions of workers are losing pay, with the majority in low-income service industries such as fast food, domestic work, agriculture, retail, hotel and tourism, and home health care. It’s also a big problem in the warehousing and construction industries, which employ large numbers of recent immigrants and undocumented workers, who are reluctant to complain, fearing scrutiny of their immigration status.
Nearly two out of three low-wage workers experienced some form of wage theft each week, according to a 2009 survey of 4,400 low-wage workers in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. On average, these workers lost $51 a week in unpaid earnings, the survey found.
The lost wages add up. Workers in Houston lose more than $753 million a year, according to a recent study.
The U.S. Department of Labor, which monitors compliance with federal wage laws on behalf of more than 130 million workers, has only 1,000 enforcement agents. State wage-and-hour investigators are equally scarce in the wake of massive budget cuts.
Last year, Texas lawmakers closed a loophole that let employers escape prosecution if they pay workers only a portion of the wages they’re owed.
You can find that study here, and a writeup about it and related matters at The Nation. Imagine if your boss could get away with paying you less than you’re owed. Imagine if you had no good recourse to get the wages you’re supposed to get. That would suck, wouldn’t it? Meanwhile, in related news here in Houston, janitors who are fighting for a living wage have been illegally barred from their jobs after staging a one-day walkout to highlight the fact that the average janitor in this town gets paid about $9,000 a year. How much would you have to be paid to do that kind of hard, dirty work? I’ll bet you won’t find any management types stepping in to do those jobs in the event of a protracted dispute. See here and here for more. If we can’t do right by the people who clean up after us, how can we do right at all?