Council passes wage theft ordinance

Well done.

Houston City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to adopt an ordinance aimed at deterring companies from stealing workers’ wages and ensuring the city does not hire firms that do, though supporters acknowledged the measure’s limited reach.

The seemingly easy vote masked months of lobbying and negotiations among Mayor Annise Parker’s administration, council members, workers rights groups and business organizations. The item was pulled from last week’s agenda for some final tweaks in talks with lobbyists for builders, contractors, restaurateurs, building owners and hotel operators.


Laura Perez-Boston, director of the nonprofit Faith and Justice Worker Center, flooded the chamber with supporters each time the item came up, citing statistics: 100 daily wage theft complaints in the Houston area; $750 million in local wages lost annually to the practice.

“It’s certainly not everything we would want, but I do think it is a substantial step in the right direction,” she said. “And although you may see there aren’t a lot of main contractors that are found guilty of wage theft, there are a lot of subcontractors.”

Joshua Sanders, a spokesman for the trade groups, said the law strikes a balance in that it has teeth but avoids duplicating existing processes. He rejected the idea that the draft had been hollowed out via negotiations.

“What they did with this ordinance was to say, ‘We’re one of the largest employers in Houston, we’ve got a policy now that allows us to scrutinize and penalize and refuse to do business with individuals who’ve been convicted of wage theft,’‚ÄČ” Sanders said. “They’re taking this position as an employer and they’re setting a standard and an example.”

See here, here, and here for the background. As Texpatriate noted, CM Helena Brown was absent, so don’t read too much into the fact that it passed unanimously. There’s certainly room for improvement in this ordinance, since it only affects a firm that has been convicted of wage theft and has exhausted all its appeals, but just having this ordinance is a big step forward. I would like to see the matter revisited before the end of Mayor Parker’s next term to ensure that the law has had the intended effect and to strengthen it if needed. But the first step is always the hardest, and getting this on the books is a big deal. Kudos all around. PDiddie has more.

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One Response to Council passes wage theft ordinance

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    Well, I’m glad a firm needs to actually be convicted of a crime before it is blacklisted from city work, as opposed to the alternative, blacklisting firms based on allegations alone. The Duke Lacrosse players might be able to weigh in on that.

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