Bipartisan vote comes as hundreds of workers from across the state rally against wage theft at State Capitol
Sacramento, CA — The state Senate passed legislation Monday that would give workers the ability to more effectively collect pay they’re owed after they’ve been victims of wage theft. SB 588, A Fair Day’s Pay Act, is authored by Senate President pro Tempore Kevin De León and supported by a broad coalition of workers, community organizations, businesses, and advocates for workers.
“Wage theft has reached epidemic proportions in California and it is literally robbing a shot at the American Dream from the very people who build the prosperity of our state,” said Senator De León. “California must target the bad actors to level the playing field for honest businesses and help workers collect the pay they’ve earned.”
SB 588 would finally give teeth to existing laws that prohibit wage theft. Too often, businesses have been able to withhold wages that are legally owed to workers. Some employers routinely break these laws because they are confident that their employees won’t be able to overcome the many obstacles to collecting the pay they are owed.
The bipartisan vote came after hundreds of workers and community activists rallied outside the Capitol in support of the bill and filled the Senate gallery to observe the vote.
“It’s stressful to have to fight for what I’m owed and not to know whether I’ll have money to pay my bills,” said Fausto Hernandez-Garcia, a carwash worker and victim of wage theft from Los Angeles.
“As long as wage theft exists, there is no such thing as a true minimum wage or fair competition,” said Lilia Garcia-Brower, Executive Director of the Maintenance Cooperation Trust fund, statewide watchdog organization working to abolish illegal and unfair business practices in the janitorial industry. “Unfortunately, these abuses will remain common so long as our workers do not have the tools needed to recover the wages they’re owed.”
Common forms of wage theft occur when:
· Workers are paid for fewer hours than they actually worked
· Workers are paid less than minimum wage
· Workers are not paid overtime, in violation of the law
The current system for enforcing these important labor protections simply is not working. For example:
· The UCLA Labor Center estimates that more than $1.3 billion in wages were stolen in 2014 in Los Angeles County alone.
· An analysis carried out by the National Employment Law Project and UCLA of California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement records found that between 2008 and 2011, 83 percent of workers who won wage claims in court were never paid even a dime.
· Wage theft disproportionately affects the most vulnerable, including low-wage workers, immigrants and women.
SB 588 improves enforcement by:
· Targeting deadbeat businesses that have failed to pay wages even after a court order
· Enabling state officials to hold individuals responsible for wage theft
· Preventing “shell game” practices where employers hide behind subcontractors or change business names to avoid paying workers
· Making it easier for the state Labor Commissioner to collect unpaid wages on behalf of workers
Visitors to the event saw a graphic illustration of the barriers many workers face in collecting the money they are owed. A giant obstacle course demonstrated how difficult – and often fruitless — it is for wronged workers to file successful wage theft claims.
“Arresting the out of control wage abuses that strip workers of the American Dream is a top priority for SEIU,” said David Huerta, President of SEIU United Service Workers West. “Wage theft keeps workers in poverty. Unless we do a better job stopping these forms of exploitation, poverty and inequality will continue to grow.”
The California Fair Paycheck Coalition is composed of dozens of labor, community, and worker’s advocacy groups, including the Service Employees International Union, California Labor Federation, California Immigrant Policy Center, National Employment Law Project, Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, Graton Day Labor Center, the Garment Worker Center, the Wage Justice Center and La Raza Centro Legal.