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A Review of Local Wage Theft Ordinances, Data Practices, & Evaluation Procedures

Cowgill, Jonathan

The phenomenon of wage theft, where employers fail to compensate their employees with the wages due them, is widespread in the United States. The National Employment Law Project (NELP) has estimated the amount of wages stolen in the United States to be tens of millions of dollars per year (Winning Wage Justice, 2011), and a 2008 survey of workers in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York found that 68% of those surveyed had experienced at least one pay-related violation during the past week of work (RISEP, 2013). While it is technically illegal to deprive an employee of the wages due her, retrieving stolen wages can be a long and convoluted process in many jurisdictions. Traditional conciliation court proceedings sometimes do little to deter the perpetrating employer from offending again. This report provides an outline of how current wage theft policies operate, and in doing so explored the pros and cons of different local (municipal and county-level) approaches to the problem.

In recent years, state and municipal governments have passed legislation to strengthen wage theft laws. These laws operate in different ways. Some place heavy fines or permit sanctions on businesses found in violation, and some create a simpler process for victims to recoup stolen wages. Others institute new requirements during the hiring process, and still others legislate new reporting requirements for businesses. In some municipalities more than one of these approaches is used at once. The political viability of each of these approaches varies from state to state and city to city.

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Conducted on behalf of Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha. Supported by the Kris Nelson Community-Based Research Program, a program of the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) at the University of Minnesota.
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