Wage theft ordinance back before Council

It should be up for discussion this week.

“Wage theft is defined as a situation in which someone employs someone to perform a service, not intending to pay them wages. That’s an extreme offense,” [City Attorney David] Feldman said. “The city has an interest in knowing if that type of conduct is taking place under a public contract. That’s one reason why this ordinance affords a process for that kind of complaint to be brought directly to the city.”

Workers who believe they have been improperly denied pay can file civil complaints with the Texas Workforce Commission or in court, or pursue criminal complaints with police and prosecutors. Most workers choose the state agency, but Feldman said that the process is hopelessly slow.

A coalition of builders, contractors, restaurateurs, building owners and hotel operators has argued that existing civil and criminal processes should take priority, particularly since the proposed city ordinance levies sanctions only after existing remedies are exhausted. Coalition member Joshua Sanders, executive director of developer-led Houstonians for Responsible Growth, said city involvement in fielding wage theft filings could result in companies being unfairly snubbed if complaints later prove to be without merit. However, Sanders said, the trade groups are open to further discussions.

“We are not supportive of wage theft. The city should set an example in not doing business with these types of individuals,” Sanders said. “But we don’t want a process set up to where individuals can go shame businesses by filing unmeritorious complaints. There’s a system in place that supersedes the city and our ordinances, and there are processes in place there that are effective and work.”


The proposal would bar the city from hiring people or firms that had been assessed civil penalties or judgments related to wage theft or that have been criminally convicted of the offense, provided all appeals are exhausted. Those with final criminal wage theft convictions also would be denied 46 types of city permits and licenses for five years. Feldman has said criminal wage theft convictions are rare.

See here for the previous entry – this ordinance was first proposed in July – and here for some background on the issue. There’s not a lot of detail in the story so I’m not sure what the point of contention is. I hope we all agree that people should be paid the wages they were promised without any subsequent conditions, and that the city should not do business with anyone that rips off its workers in this fashion. Assuming we are in fact all on board with that, then we should be able to work out the details of how to enforce it. If anyone is not in agreement with this, then I look forward to hearing what their arguments are, because I’m having a hard time imagining what they could be. Stace has more.

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