Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Most States Flunk Wage Theft Test

June 14th, 2012 | Mike Hall

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.

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