Workplace Fairness

Menu

Skip to main content

  • print
  • decrease text sizeincrease text size
    text

Justice Gets Delivered To FedEx Workers

Share this post

Emily-Foster_avatarFedEx says it “lives to deliver.” Last Friday, more than 2,000 of its workers finally received a delivery of justice from a federal judge.

A settlement in the case filed in U.S. District Court on behalf of the workers, Alexander v. FedEx Ground, means the company will pay $277 million to resolve the claims of FedEx Ground and FedEx Home Delivery workers who were victims of worker misclassification since the year 2000. These are workers FedEx classified as “independent contractors” but treated largely as if they were on the company payroll.

We first wrote about this last August, when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that FedEx’s employees (in California and Oregon, and likely many states with similar employee-protection laws) are, in fact, “employees as a matter of law” – not independent businesspeople who had the level of control over their jobs that a self-employed person would expect to have.

“The drivers must wear FedEx uniforms, drive FedEx-approved vehicles, and groom themselves according to FedEx’s appearance standards,” the ruling said. “FedEx tells its drivers what packages to deliver, on what days, and at what times. Although drivers may operate multiple delivery routes and hire third parties to help perform their work, they may do so only with FedEx’s consent.”

According to the Economic Policy Institute, worker misclassification is an increasingly common problem, “a business model for unscrupulous employers who use it to avoid employment-related obligations and save on labor and administrative costs.”

EPI says independent contractor misclassification occurs “when a worker who should be considered a direct employee of a business is treated as a self-employed contractor.” Françoise Carré, in his June 8, 2015 report for EPI titled “(In)dependent Contractor Misclassification,” workers who are misclassified are “ineligible for unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, minimum wage, and overtime, and are forced to pay the full FICA tax and purchase their own health insurance.” Misclassification also “undermines their bargaining power and leaves workers more vulnerable to wage theft.”

Carré also wrote that misclassification leads to the federal and state governments losing revenue from necessary income taxes, while unemployment insurance, workers compensation and disability insurance systems are “adversely affected.”

It also makes it easy for companies to bypass requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.

The report points out that worker misclassification is most common in professions where “work is performed in isolation,” which FedEx drivers exemplify.

The ruling found that the company owes its drivers “for illegally shifting to them the costs of such things as the FedEx branded trucks, FedEx branded uniforms, and FedEx scanners, as well as missed meal and rest period pay, overtime compensation, and penalties.” Drivers were required to pay out of pocket for the trucks, uniforms, and scanners, and even the wages of other employees the company asked the drivers to hire.

After the settlement, the 2,000 workers were granted the rights and benefits entitled to employees under California’s laws. FedEx Ground’s independent contractor model was deemed unlawful, and the settlement is considered as one of the largest in recent history – showing that mislabeling workers can be economically catastrophic to a business.

That doesn’t mean that FedEx isn’t still trying to game the system so it doesn’t have to treat its workers as workers. The company has since 2011 implemented a new system in which delivery drivers are employees of a subcontractor to FedEx, and the trade publication Transport Topics quoted a FedEx spokesperson as saying that the company would “complete the transition to a new independent service provider agreement later this year.”

After Friday’s settlement, FedEx did tweet that new job openings were available. We’ll see if FedEx has learned its lesson about worker misclassification – or if the company is absolutely, positively delivering new ways to scam its workers.

This blog was originally posted on Our Future on June 16, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Emily Foster. Emily Foster is a regular contributor to Our Future.


Share this post

After Ruling That McDonald’s Can’t Pay Workers In Bank Cards, The Bank Pays Up

Share this post

AlanPyke_108x108Paying employees through prepaid debit cards that incur fees when workers try to withdraw their cash is illegal in Pennsylvania, a judge ruled Tuesday. The lawsuit targeting a McDonald’s franchisee in the eastern-central part of the state has already prompted a powerful Wall Street bank to voluntarily give money back, a lawyer for the plaintiffs told ThinkProgress on Wednesday.

The case began in 2013 after a woman named Natalie Gunshannon sued a couple who own and operate multiple McDonald’s franchises in the state. The owners, Carol and Albert Mueller, had been using payroll debit cards provided by JP Morgan Chase rather than traditional paychecks or direct deposit payroll systems. After Gunshannon filed suit, the couple began offering direct deposit and traditional checks as alternatives to the payroll cards, which had previously been workers’ only option.

Gunshannon and other workers faced a $1.50 charge every time they used an ATM to access their wages, and a $5 charge for withdrawing the money over the counter at a cash register. Where a worker who misplaced a standard paycheck would be able to get a replacement check, the JP Morgan Chase prepaid cards charged a $15 replacement fee if lost or stolen. Paying bills online with the card meant spending an additional 75 cents on bank fees, and merely checking the balance of a card triggered a $1 fee.

The Muellers’ hourly workers were charged such fees nearly 47,000 separate times from the fall of 2010 to the summer of 2014, according to an expert witness in the case. That works out to roughly 20 separate fees per person in the class over a 45-month period.

Store managers, meanwhile, were offered direct deposit forms to receive their pay without facing the card fees.

When Gunshannon’s claim gained class action status earlier this year, all 2,380 hourly workers at the Muellers’ chain were able to join the case. Each of those workers would be entitled to a $500 damages payment plus the reimbursement of all the fees they were charged by the payroll cards, should the Muellers’ appeal of Tuesday’s ruling ultimately fail. In that case, the couple would have to pay out roughly $1.2 million in damages, unless they are able to strike a settlement with the workers’ attorneys.

Because the class action decision raised the stakes so significantly, that May ruling was in some ways a bigger deal than Tuesday’s finding that the Muellers had broken the law. The class status ruling in May certainly got Chase’s attention, plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Cefalo told ThinkProgress.

“Our lawfirm became bombarded with telephone calls. All of the class members were getting a form letter from Chase saying, we have decided to refund you all of the fees you have paid Chase,” Cefalo said. “We were shocked.” The voluntary payments from Chase ranged from as little as a penny to as high as $148, the attorney said. A call to the bank’s press office about the payments was not immediately returned.

The checks do little to shield the Muellers from the potentially backbreaking damages payments mandates by Pennsylvania’s Wage Payment and Collection Law. And while the money is nice, Cefalo said, it doesn’t erase what the McDonald’s franchisees and Chase did to his clients.

“Say I come up to you and I have an armed robbery, and then I say ‘I’m sorry, here’s your money back.’ I still committed a robbery,” he said. “You still paid ‘em the wrong way.”

The Muellers’ attorneys told Law360 they intend to appeal Tuesday’s ruling. They may yet succeed in persuading a different judge that the payroll cards fit the state’s definition of legal payment. In Tuesday’s decision, Judge Thomas Burke himself acknowledged that the relevant state law was written in 1961, and the technological progress in payments technology since then may cloud the case. He also asked the state’s Department of Labor and Industry to issue a formal administrative position on whether or not payroll cards that charge user fees are equivalent to cash or checks. The agency has previously said the cards are legal payment, but only in a non-binding advisory letter, according to Law360. A call to the agency for comment was not returned.

Payroll cards such as those the Muellers used are legal in many states, despite the fees that eat into workers’ wages. A handful of state legislatures are weighing new rules to govern the use of such cards, including Pensylvania itself and Washington state. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is working on regulations for a wide range of different prepaid debit cards including payroll cards like those in the Mueller case. The agency has warned employers that they must make alternative forms of payment available for any worker who doesn’t want the cards, and is currently soliciting comments on a proposed federal regulation.

With millions of Americans lacking access to banking services, the cards can be an important and beneficial tool for workers so long as they come with the right safeguards, the National Consumer Law Center has argued. Close to 5 million people were paid through such cards in 2012, a number projected to double by 2017. Similar prepaid debit cards are also being used in some cases to pay public benefits such as unemployment insurance. The banks that provide the cards and charge the fees are trying to recoup some of the profit they lost when Dodd-Frank regulations curtailed their old business practices involving fees for standard debit cards.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on June 3, 2015. Reprinted with permission .

About the Author: The author’s name is Alan Pyke. Alan Pyke is the Deputy Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he was a blogger and researcher with a focus on economic policy and political advertising at Media Matters for America, American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, and PoliticalCorrection.org. He previously worked as an organizer on various political campaigns from New Hampshire to Georgia to Missouri. His writing on music and film has appeared on TinyMixTapes, IndieWire’s Press Play, and TheGrio, among other sites.


Share this post

The buck starts here: Living wages and sustainable employment (Part II)

Share this post

IMG_0156a1_2-2The massive push toward subcontracting and supply chains I wrote about in my prior post didn’t happen overnight, and it certainly won’t be fixed overnight either. There are many pieces to this puzzle, all in the service of one big overarching principle: Lead companies must take their fair share of responsibility for the pain and misery that is generated when they squeeze too much from their suppliers and subcontractors. Here are some of the pieces:

1.  Challenge Payroll Fraud.  What used to be called “misclassification” of employees as independent contractors is really the practice of defrauding employees out of social security, overtime, worker’s compensation, health and safety protections, family and medical leave, unemployment insurance, protections against discrimination, and the right to bargain collectively, among other things. In addition to losing these protections, employees who become “independent contractors” have to cover their own costs.

Cases challenging bogus “independent contractor” status have been multiplying as more and more businesses adopt this practice in order to cut their payroll costs. Last August, the Ninth Circuit held that thousands of FedEx truck drivers were employees, even though FedEx called them independent contractors.  Recently, the judge in a misclassification case against Uber ruled that a jury should decide whether the drivers employees of the company, and noted that “many of the factors in that test appear outmoded” in the “context of the new economy.”

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has proposed that, instead of waiting for the courts to decide these cases one-by-one, the IRS and Department of Labor adopt a new, simpler test: “Any corporation that accounts for at least 80 percent or more of the pay someone gets, or receives from that worker at least 20 percent of his or her earnings, should be presumed to be that person’s employer.”

2.  Treat Lead Companies as Joint Employers. Every federal circuit and many state courts have their own version of the “joint employer” test to determine when one company should be liable for the wage and hour violations of another – including subcontractors or franchisees. Some of these tests are being re-examined to take into account the ways in which “lead companies” maintain control.

In December 2014 the National Labor Relations Board issued complaints naming McDonald’s Corp. as a joint employer of workers at its franchises. In another case, theNLRB has proposed a “totality of the circumstances” test that would impose joint employer status on any company that wields sufficient influence over the working conditions of the other company’s employees, to make meaningful bargaining impossible in its absence. A similar rule in state and federal courts would recognize the significant power and control that is exerted from the top.

3.  Enforce Supply Chain Liability. Regulators and legislators are also coming to recognize the need to affix responsibility at the top of an industry.  California Labor Code Section 2810.3, which became effective January 1, 2015, provides that an employer must share responsibility for wages, taxes, and workers compensation with the middlemen who provide the labor to the employer. In a similar vein, a provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act known as the “hot goods” provision, prohibits the selling or transporting in commerce any goods produced in violation of the FLSA’s wage and overtime provisions.

Decent wages and safe working conditions are not just an idealistic goal. The lack of a healthy middle class hurts all of us. Public health researcher Richard Wilkinson has reported that the average well-being of modern societies — including health, lifespan, literacy levels, crime levels, and so on — is no longer correlated with national income or economic growth, but with the extent of income inequality. The Center for American Progress has just issued an exhaustive report on “inclusive prosperity,” concluding that nations succeed when their middle class is secure in the expectation that those willing to work are able to work and that standards of living will increase.

Clearly, more work needs to be done. It is time to invest in living wages and sustainable employment, instead of pioneering ever more ways to create dead-end jobs that benefit only those at the very top.

This article originally appeared in CELAVOICE.ORG on March 23, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Anne Richardson is the Associate Director of Public Counsel Opportunity Under Law, a project aimed at eliminating economic injustice on behalf of underrepresented workers, students, and families throughout California and nationwide. Previously she was a partner at Hadsell Stormer Richardson & Renick representing plaintiffs in all varieties of employment discrimination and civil rights matters for over twenty years. A graduate of Stanford Law School, she has been named to the Top 100 Lawyers in Southern California and has received numerous honors for her work.


Share this post

AFL-CIO Stands with NFL Cheerleader and Oakland Raiderette Lacy T.

Share this post

Jackie TortoraCheerleading for professional sports is more than sporting sparkly midriff-baring tops, white cowboy boots and zipping off to calendar shoots…it’s a job. And it’s demanding.

Between mandatory practices, public appearances, strict image guidelines that require lots of money for upkeep and performing at the games, it’s a lot of hard work.

Generally people are paid for the work they do in a formal employment relationship. But unfortunately, that’s not a reality for NFL cheerleaders. Because it’s a “love what you do” kind of job, many of these women are taken advantage of in the form of wage theft. And Lacy T., an Oakland Raiderette, took a very strong stand against wage theft earlier this year when she filed a lawsuit against the Oakland Raiders.

According to ESPN, the lawsuit alleged that the Raiders failed to pay their cheerleaders minimum wage for all hours worked, withheld pay until the end of the season, required cheerleaders to cover their own business expenses, don’t provide lunch breaks and impose fines for minor infractions—all of which, according to the suit, constitute violations of the California Labor Code.

ESPN writer Amanda Hess makes the case that even though the NFL is hugely profitable and football players, by coming together in their union, are able to collectively bargaining for better wages, cheerleaders are still seen as expendable.

Of the 26 teams that employ cheerleaders, only Seattle publicly advertises that it pays its squad an hourly minimum wage. The tenuous position of NFL cheerleaders is exacerbated by the fact that six teams don’t fork out any cash for squads.

We see it happening with Walmart workers. We see it happening with paid sick days. Women workers all over the country are linking arms and demanding better workplaces—and they’re winning.

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler took notice of Lacy T.’s story and sent her a letter this week commending her courage:

I was very moved by your courage in standing up to some very powerful interests. It reminds me of the many union members we represent, especially women, who are lifting up their voices in workplaces all over the country, often against overwhelming odds. I believe your willingness to speak out will be a turning point toward a better future for other young women who want to take their skills and experience to the professional level.

In a statement, Lacy T. said:

I love being a Raiderette, but someone has to stand up for all of the women of the NFL who work so hard for the fans and the teams….I hope cheerleaders across the NFL will step forward to join me in demanding respect and fair compensation.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on April 11, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.


Share this post

Teamsters Back School Bus Drivers in Fight Against ‘Rampant’ Wage Theft

Share this post

Bruce VailMore than 350 Baltimore-area bus drivers are preparing to celebrate victory in a $1.25 million wage theft case against Durham School Services, an Illinois-based bus-contracting company with operations across much of the country.

The case, which covers the employees at Durham between March 2010 and September 2013, reflects a troubling national trend of companies cheating workers out of their earnings. “Wage theft is a huge problem, and it’s outrageous,” says Andrew Freeman, one of the attorneys at Brown Goldstein Levy, the Baltimore-based firm that filed the suit against Durham last year. In their suit, the plaintiffs accused the company of failing to pay employees for overtime work such as bus inspections, bus cleanings, fueling, and other related tasks.

The settlement of the U.S. District Court case should be finalized April 4, with distribution of the stolen wage money following immediately afterward, says Moe Jackson, a union organizer for International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 570. For almost two years, the local has been trying to organize the drivers and aides at Rosedale, Jackson says, where employees are also bristling over low pay, substandard benefits and overbearing management practices. The Teamsters initiated the wage theft case on behalf of the workers, officers say, as a step in the unionizing process.

At Rosedale, Durham operates under a contract with Baltimore City Public Schools, but its business extends to more than 30 U.S. states, according to company spokesperson Molly Hart. As of the 2013-2014 school year, Durham, a subsidiary of the U.K.-based National Express Group, employs more than 18,000 workers to transport about one million school kids on 17,000 vehicles.

And many of those workers are dissatisfied with the company, says Deputy Organizing Director Kim Keller. The Baltimore case comes as part of a broader Teamsters campaign to bring school bus drivers from all over the country into the union. Teamster organizers have been active in some 20 Durham work sites over the last two years, according to Keller, and there are widespread complaints of wage theft throughout. “I would say [the practice] is rampant,” she says.

For example, more than 3,000 Durham school bus workers in California won about $7 million of lost overtime wages in a 2011class-action suit against the company.

Keller says Teamster organizers have also heard complaints from employees in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Florida, Illinois and elsewhere. Based on these reports, Durham could be liable for “hundred of millions of dollars” in similar payments at its other bus yards, Keller estimates.

“It’s their practice everywhere … Nearly every Durham yard where we talk to the people, there is a problem,” with workers forced to work without pay, she reports.

In addition to the controversy over lost earnings, Keller says, relations have been tense between the company and employees around a host of other issues. Last month in Pennsylvania, for example, the York Daily Record reported that Teamsters Local 776 voted to authorize a strike in the Spring Grove school district, based on management’s slow progress in renewing an expired collective bargaining agreement. Similarly, Keller says, frustration is mounting among Teamster supporters in Santa Rosa County, Fla., thanks to Durham’s efforts to fight certification of a successful union election there more than a year ago. And in suburban Charleston, S.C., Durham recently brought legal action against the union in a dispute over the company’s use of non-union workers.

But organizing the unhappy workers still hasn’t been easy everywhere. On the streets of Baltimore, for instance, Jackson reports that forming a union for the local Durham bus workers has been a tough slog. When Rosedale employees approached the Teamsters for help organizing in 2012, the union quickly amassed support, he says. Local 570 called for an election last year to cover the then-152 drivers and aides at the Rosedale yard, according to Jackson, but fell short by 13 votes in National Labor Relations Board-supervised voting in May 2013. The local attempted to have the election set aside on allegations ofimproper anti-union tactics by Durham managers, but those failed; Jackson says the union is now aiming for a new election in the fall.

In the meantime, the 350 former or current workers at the Rosedale yard can take some comfort in the checks they will be receiving for lost wage payments, according to Freeman. Though the payments will vary widely from individual to individual, all are closely calculated to represent 110 percent of each employee’s wages lost during a 31-month period in 2010-2013, he says. That adds up to $1 million, Freeman says, with the remaining $250,000 going to the law firm. Durham spokesperson Hart tells In These Times that the company has no comment on the Baltimore settlement at this time.

“We work hard and don’t make a lot of money to begin with,” Rosedale driver Martin Fox commented in a union press statement. “For many of us, the pay we didn’t receive was the difference between being able to pay the electric bill and having food on the table for our families. We are glad to finally win back the pay that was stolen from us.”

This article was originally printed on Working In These Times on March 10, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.


Share this post

14 Workers Protest for Over $40,000 in Unpaid Wages, Overtime, and Damages

Share this post

Hannah-pic-for-websiteFourteen former workers of Bravo Facilities Services, Inc. marched today at George Washington University to demand over $40,000 they are owed in unpaid wages and liquidated damages. In May, the workers were hired by Bravo, a cleaning contractor that is contracted by George Washington University. They spent the next two weeks working grueling 12 hour shifts cleaning at multiple buildings within the university. After two weeks, the workers were abruptly fired, and the company has refused to pay them their wages.

Today, the workers were no longer alone in demanding their wages. They were joined by the Employment Justice Center, OUR DC, the Restaurant Opportunities Center-DC and other members of the D.C. Wage Theft Coalition, a group of labor, community, and workers’ rights organizations that have come together to fight back against the rampant practice of wage theft in DC.

“It’s atrocious that in our nation’s capital, a company can so flagrantly deny workers their hard-earned wages,” said EJC Deputy Director Ari Weisbard. “The public needs to know that wage theft is a common occurrence in the District. It’s time to stand up and fight back.”

“If you don’t get paid in this country, they kick you out of your apartment. We have to pay for food, everything here,” said Cesar Monje, one of the workers who has not been paid. “We’re here because they haven’t paid us. We’re here to demand that they pay us now!”

Bystanders inside the university looked on, as the group of workers and their 30 community supporters chanted, “Bravo, Bravo, pay us now!”

Ultimately, Jonny Castillo, another worker who has not been paid, promised that the workers will return if they do not receive their wages. As the protesters marched away, they chanted, “We’ll be back!”

This article was originally printed on the Employment Justice Center Blog on July 12, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Hannah Kane joined the EJC as a Wage Theft Campaign Organizer in August, 2012. Prior to joining the EJC, Hannah received her Masters in Social Work from George Mason University. During graduate school, Hannah worked as an organizer and social worker with Tenants and Workers United, using a combination of social services, community organizing, and popular education to fight back against wage theft in Falls Church, Virginia. Hannah also worked as a social worker with the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition, providing Know Your Rights presentations to immigrants in detention and case management to former detainees being released back into the community. Hannah is a member of the National and Virginia chapters of the National Association of Social Worker


Share this post

Unemployment: Why Won’t Congress Talk About It!?

Share this post

Change to WinAn interesting look at the unemployment rate. “What is currently a temporary long-term unemployment problem runs the risk of morphing into a permanent and costly increase in the unemployment rate” unless Congress takes action to create jobs. 

Why the Unemployment Rate Is So High – New York Times

Unemployment claims have increased slightly. “The Labor Department says applications rose 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 371,000, the most in five weeks.”

Unemployment claims rise slightly in latest week – USA Today

“We need to avoid a lost generation of young people who will be playing economic catch-up their whole lives. We cannot stop pressing our leaders to help struggling poor and middle-class Americans.”

Crowdsourcing our economic recovery – CNN 

Even though the economy is improving, we need to do more to ensure the long term unemployed get back on their feet. Long term unemployment makes it harder and harder to provide for one’s family, and causes dramatic increases in mental illness. It’s time Washington gets busy putting people back to work. 

Long-Term Unemployed Winning Jobs Or Giving Up? – Huffington Post

This article was originally posted by ChangeToWin on January 11, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Change to Win is an organization created by over 5.5 million workers – if corporations can join together to hire an army of lobbyists, working and middle class Americans must also band together and restore balance by making sure we have a strong voice and a seat at the table again.

(Colleen Gartner is an intern at Workplace Fairness.)


Share this post

Most States Flunk Wage Theft Test

Share this post

Image: Mike Hall

A new report from the Progressive States Network (PSN) finds that workers in 44 states have little to no protection against wage theft. “Where Theft Is Legal: Mapping Wage Theft Laws in the 50 States” reports that:

States’ wage theft laws are grossly inadequate, contributing to a rising trend in workplace violations that affect millions of people throughout the country.

Wage theft, a growing problem affecting millions of workers, is the systemic non-payment of wages by unethical employers. The report graded states based on their legal protections for workers and paints a dim picture for low-wage workers in nearly every state. Only a few states are starting to address the problem in earnest through legislation—and the vast majority have laws that are grossly inadequate.

According to the report, more than 60 percent of low-wage workers say they have been victims of wage on a weekly basis. As a result, they lose 15 percent of their earnings each year on average—about $2,634 per year—with the majority of workers affected supporting at least one child.

PSN senior policy analyst Tim Judson, co-author of the report, says:

Working people throughout the country are losing billions of dollars each year to wage theft, and this report shows why: the laws needed to protect workers are too weak. Forty-four states would fail the basic test of enacting the right laws to address the crime. With millions more people being forced into lower-wage industries where wage theft is rampant, and states losing millions of dollars in unpaid taxes and economic losses, the stakes for failure are simply too high.

Click here for the full report.

Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) and its network of workers centers around the country have long recognized the gaping need for better wage protection for workers and have kicked-off several local wage theft campaigns over the past few years. IWJ Worker Center Coordinator Dianne Enriquez says:

Communities are building and passing wage theft enforcement ordinances in areas that are typically very conservative and it is clear that this is because people are tired of unethical employers stealing from them.

More information on IWJ’s local wage theft campaigns is available here.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on June 13, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL-CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.


Share this post

Good News for Wage-Theft Victims in San Francisco

Share this post

R.M. ArrietaWage theft is a national epidemic: It’s estimated that $30 billion or more is stolen from U.S. workers every year by employers.

In San Francisco, the Board of Supervisors yesterday took a major step to prevent wage theft and protect low-wage workers by unanimously approving the Wage Theft Prevention Ordinance. Mayor Edwin Lee still has to sign it into law.

“While Washington was engaged in a manufactured crisis over the debt ceiling, workers and their advocates were working together with ethical businesses and government officials to make a real difference for working people and their families in San Francisco,” stated  Kim Bobo, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice.

Co-sponsored by Supervisors David Campos and Eric Mar, the ordinance, among other things, will slap stiffer penalties on employers who disregard the law and strengthen the ability of the city’s Office of Labor Standards and Enforcement to do its job.

The measure would do the following:

  • double penalties fro employers who retaliate against workers who stand up for themselves (i.e., try to enforce local labor laws).
  • penalize employers who refuse to post notice of minimum wage requirements, who neglect to notify their workers when a workplace investigation is being conducted, or who fail to comply with settlement agreements following a dispute.
  • allow investigators to immediately cite employers for violations.
  • establish a timeline in which worker complaints must be addressed,  and allow investigators to immediately cite employers for violations.

The Wage Theft Prevention Ordinance was drafted in partnership with theProgressive Workers Alliance, which launched the Campaign to End Wage Theft this past May.

The PWA has helped Bay Area workers recover almost half a million dollars in stolen wages via legal claims, suits, employer negotiations and community campaigns.

Many victims of wage theft are recent immigrants who speak little English. They work in restaurants, as domestic workers, day laborers and the garment industry.

Many don’t know what the laws are, and even if they do they are reluctant to report for fear of losing their jobs.

But there are places that treat their workers well. For that, Young Workers United launched a “Dining With Justice” which lists of local businesses that treat workers fairly.

Low-wage restaurant workers often speak of not being granted breaks, having their tips stolen, not being paid for sick days, not being paid overtime, nor for all the hours they work.

The Chinese Progressive Association conducted a study that found 76 percent of employees did not receive overtime pay when they worked more than 40 hours a week. Approximately half were not paid San Francisco’s minimum wage of $9.92 an hour.

Take, for instance, the case of a Chinatown restaurant being sued by the City of San Francisco for $440,000 in wages plus interest for seven employees.

In their complaint, workers say they were paid twice a month with earnings of about $550, which comes out to approximately $3.02 to $3.91 an hour. All worked six days a week, 11 to 14 hours a day.

“Robbing employees of wages to which they’re entitled doesn’t just hurt working families—it also hurts honest businesses and their employees by corrupting a competitive marketplace,” stated City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

Herrera said the case stands out even “among the most egregious perpetrators of wage theft in San Francisco. They paid wages well below the legal minimum, demanded long hours with no overtime, instructed workers to lie to labor investigators, and retaliated against those who sought to protect their rights.”

An attorney for the Dick Lee Pastry owners claimed the workers lied.

Donna Levitt of the San Francisco Office of Labor Standard Enforcement, (OLSE) the agency in charge of overseeing claims of employers withholding wages, told the SF Bay Guardian that 500 claims of wage theft have been handled by the office since the minimum wage law was put in place in 2004.  The office has a staff of 16 to enforce labor law. Last year they received 81 complaints about wage theft.

Since the wage law, San Francisco has recovered nearly $4.4 million in back wages for workers according to OLSE.

Supervisor Campos told the Guardian: “The fact is that even though we have minimum wage laws in place, those laws are still being violated not only throughout the country, but here in San Francisco.”

This article originally appeared on the Working In These Times blog on August 4, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: R.M. Arrieta was born and raised in Los Angeles. She has worked at three daily newspapers and two television stations and is a former editor of the Bay Area’s independent community bilingual biweekly El Tecolote. She currently lives in San Francisco, where she is a freelance journalist writing for a variety of outlets. She can be reached at [email protected]


Share this post

S.F. Activists Launch Anti-Wage Theft Campaign

Share this post

Image: Mike HallSan Francisco workers yesterday kicked off a new citywide campaign to combat wage theft and rallied to mobilize support for a proposed new anti-wage theft law.

Wage theft is a $30 billion a year problem nationally and in the Bay Area, workers in the restaurant, construction, caregiving, manufacturing industries are victims. Tiffany Crain, from the activist group Young Workers United (YWU), says:

It comes in the form of not being paid overtime, not receiving breaks, not being paid at all in some instances, and many other things that are unlawful, work off the clock, they’re told to clock out and told to do other duties and not paid for it.

In 2010, a report released by the Chinese Progressive Association revealed that 1 out of 2 workers in Chinatown restaurants are paid below the minimum wage.  In 2010, the Progressive Workers Alliance helped Bay Area workers recover nearly $500,000 in stolen wages due to wage theft through legal claims, lawsuits, employer negotiations and community campaigns.

The proposed ordinance by city supervisors David Campos and Eric Mar would strengthen requirements that employers post notices and inform workers about the minimum wage and other workers’ rights related to wages and also increase penalties for employers who violate the law.

Crain says the proposed ordinance would benefit employers as well as workers because wage theft “is unfair competition for responsible businesses, and we will work to help promote these good businesses.”

Last week, the group issued their second annual edition of “Dining With Justice,” which highlights food establishments that follow labor laws and treat their employees with dignity and respect.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on May 13, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He has also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold his blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent.


Share this post

Follow this Blog

Subscribe via RSS Subscribe via RSS

Or, enter your address to follow via email:

Recent Posts

Forbes Best of the Web, Summer 2004
A Forbes "Best of the Web" Blog

Archives

  • Tracking image for JustAnswer widget
  • Find an Employment Lawyer

  • Support Workplace Fairness

 
 

Find an Employment Attorney

The Workplace Fairness Attorney Directory features lawyers from across the United States who primarily represent workers in employment cases. Please note that Workplace Fairness does not operate a lawyer referral service and does not provide legal advice, and that Workplace Fairness is not responsible for any advice that you receive from anyone, attorney or non-attorney, you may contact from this site.