National Coverage of Workplace Justice Issues

natl newsThe Employment Justice Center has been fighting hard for more workplace justice in the D.C. metro area, and has achieved several recent, important successes that will help improve the lives and livelihoods of many workers and their families.

We got an increase in the minimum wage, which is going up to $9.50 on July 1 of this year, will rise to $11.50 by 2016, and will keep going up to keep up with cost of living increases after that.

We secured paid sick day protections for more than 20,000 new workers and increased enforcement to make sure all workers are able to receive the sick days they need and earned under the law.

And we are currently organizing to pass the Wage Theft Prevention Act of 2014, to finally do something about the District’s dismal laws and enforcement that makes it far too easy for employers to refuse to pay workers what is owed to them and far too difficult to hold employers accountable.

The fight for fair wages, paid sick days and ending wage theft are not only occurring locally in the D.C. metro area; these issues are gaining traction nationally. Below are synopses of several recent articles and opinion pieces in the media about the importance of these efforts nationwide.

Wage Theft In the News

The New York Times

On April 21, 2014, The New York Times Editorial Board wrote a piece entitled, “Wage Theft Across the Board.” They discussed how wage theft “is a huge and underpoliced problem.”

The editorial shared with the large New York Times reading audience that, “in 2012, the Department of Labor helped 308,000 workers recover $280 million in back pay for wage-theft violations — nearly double the amount stolen that year in robberies on the street, at banks, gas stations and convenience stores.”

“Moreover, the recovered wages are surely only a fraction of the wage theft nationwide because the Labor Department has only about 1,100 wage-and-hour investigators to monitor seven million employers and several states have ended or curtailed wage enforcement efforts.”

The Editorial Board also wrote about how wage theft is not just an issue for low-wage workers.

64,613 software engineers at Google, Apple, Intel, and Adobe have sued those companies for improper hiring practices, illegally colluding to keep “pay lower than it would have been had the companies actually competed for talent.”

This “white-collar wage theft,” wrote the Editorial Board, caused “money that would have flowed to workers in the form of wages” to go “instead into corporate coffers and from there to executives and shareholders.”

The editorial concludes with a call for action, declaring that there is a need for “more Labor Department resources, as President Obama called for in his recent budget…immigration reform, which would help to both stanch widespread wage theft from undocumented immigrants and improve low-wage working conditions” and “a re-energized Justice Department, to pursue tough cases and settlements against industry collusion, discrimination and other illegal practices that allow employers to deny employees their rightful pay.”


The Washington Post

On April 17, 2014, Catherine Rampell wrote a Washington Post op-ed entitled “Treat wage theft as a criminal offense.”

She told the story of Ashley Cathey, a 25 year-old McDonald’s employee of six years who saw that she was getting less than she was owned in wages because “someone had clocked her out for breaks she never took.” Other co-workers saw the same problem. They were told those hours would appear in their next paychecks, but the manager “who had printed out the time sheets was reprimanded for sharing official time records with workers and told that he’d be fired if he did it again.”

Rampell wrote what so many workers who have been victims of wage theft already know: “wage theft mostly goes unreported. Workers who do report the stolen wages to authorities…can wait months before an investigation is resolved, even though they probably need the missing money to pay their next electricity bill… The consequences for wage theft are rare, small and not particularly deterring. Even when government investigators pursue these complaints, for example, criminal charges are rarely filed.”

Rampbell, too, ends with a call to action, writing that “Harsher penalties, including prison time, should be on the table more often when willful wrongdoing is proved. Thieves caught stealing thousands of dollars from someone’s home can go to jail; the same should be true for thieves caught stealing thousands of dollars from someone’s paycheck.”


Paid Sick Days/Family Leave In the News

The New York Times

What’s a big key to reducing inequality? Judith Warner of The New York Times wrote on April 20, 2014 that it starts with more of a focus on families with policies that “really ought to have bipartisan support” like those “regarding family leave, paid sick days, early childhood education, child care and workplace flexibility that have been stymied for decades.”

Warner wrote about research that has “have found that access to paid leave has kept families out of bankruptcy, and kept low-wage workers in their jobs” and “that paid leave has kept women, in particular, in the work force and off public assistance and has bolstered mothers’ long-term earning potential.”

Yet these policies are “are out of reach for the workers who need them the most.”

  • 90%+ of high-wage employees can earn paid time off or change their schedule if an “urgent family issue” comes up
  • Less than 50% of the low-income and middle-income workers can do that

According to another study,

  • 78.5% of the highest-paid workers have access to paid sick days
  • “Only 15.2% of the lowest-paid workers have the right to take paid days off if they or a family member get sick.”

That means that those who are already struggling to get by are at the most risk of losing their income or, if they cannot even take an unpaid family leave day, their job, when they need to care for their families.