Friday, October 02, 2009

A crime wave: stealing worker pay

Mark your calendar: Thursday, November 19. It’s the National Day of Action to Stop Wage Theft, organized by Interfaith Worker Justice and its 22 affiliates throughout the country.

“Wage theft is a crime wave that nobody talks about,” says Kim Bobo, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice and author of “Wage Theft in America.”

The theft takes various forms – failure to pay the legal minimum wage, failure to pay overtime at time and a half, failure to pay for anything at all for overtime hours, failure to allow a meal break, and even prohibiting injured workers from filing worker compensation claims.

The victims are concentrated in apparel manufacturing, discount retailing, child care, hotel staffing, and other low-wage industries. And the thieves are not all isolated rogue employers.

When three Hyatt Hotels in the Boston area fired 98 housekeepers this August, it was discovered that the company hired to do the work, the Atlanta-based Hospitality Staffing Solutions. has a record of wage- law complaints filed in Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. The firm’s president, Rick Holliday, president of the firm, with employees in 450 hotels around the country, blamed “administrative mistakes.”

A comprehensive study of wage-law violations conducted early this year in three large cities – Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York – concluded: “The framework of worker protections that was established over the last 75 years is not working.” The study, “Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers,” found that among the 4,387 workers interviewed, the amount lost because of wage law violations averaged $51 a week.

Of course, such practices plague workers outside the United States too. The latest publicized evidence of that comes from Father Christopher Hartley, who has lived and worked for 10 years among Haitian sugar cane workers in the Dominican Republic.

In a report dated August 31, Father Hartley describes how the exploitation of the plantation workers has continued despite years of documentation by the U.S. State Department, Amnesty International, and other human rights groups. “Not much has changed,” he writes, “except the manner in which the human rights violations occur.” For example, in some plantations the harvested cane now gets weighed at night without any witnesses. Weight fraud results in pay fraud.

Hartley has written to the Commission of the European Union (EU) to intervene under terms of the new Economic Partnership Agreement between the EU and the African-Caribbean-Pacific nations.

What can you do? For starters, you ought to get involved in the activities of Interfaith Worker Justice.

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