CINCINNATI, OH - In the wake of Cincinnati becoming the first Ohio city to pass a wage theft ordinance, one of Ohio's senators is trying to bring the momentum nationwide.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown introduced the Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act Wednesday. The legislation would give workers the right to receive full compensation for all of the work they perform, as well as the right to receive regular paystubs and final paychecks in a timely manner.
It would also provide workers with tools to recover stolen wages and make assistance available to enhance the enforcement of and compliance with wage and hour laws.
The bill was co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.; U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
Wage theft occurs when employers refuse to pay workers money that they are owed by withholding pay, tips or overtime.
“When bosses don’t pay their workers what they’re owed, it robs them of money they earned for their hard work and hurts businesses that play by the rules,” Brown said in a news release.
“We must create a system where employers who steal wages are held accountable and workers have the tools they need to recover their wages when they’ve been cheated.”
A 2009 study by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) of nearly 4,500 low-wage workers found that more than 60 percent had been shorted by their employer each week, equivalent to $2,634 per year in unpaid wages. Analysts applying this study to Cincinnati estimate that low-wage workers here lose $52 million per year to wage theft.
Low-wage and immigrant workers are victims of wage theft when they are paid less than the minimum wage, are shorted hours, forced to work off the clock, are not paid overtime or not paid at all. These are pervasive practices across many industries.
Despite complaints about wage theft, Ohio has cut the number of state wage investigators from 15 to five since 2008. The closest investigator to Hamilton County is located in Dayton, Ohio.
In early February, Cincinnati became the first city in Ohio to pass an ordinance to improve enforcement of existing wage laws.
City Council voted 7-2 for the ordinance. Under the measure, if the city or another agency determines a company has committed wage theft, city officials would be able to have the money returned and the company would be barred from doing business with the city.
During a news conference call Wednesday, Brown was joined by Brennan Grayson, director of the Interfaith Workers Center in Cincinnati, who helped organize support for Cincinnati's recently-passed wage theft ordinance.
“Sen. Brown's bill is the type of change we need to begin making things right, to begin restoring dignity to wage earners," Grayson said.
Under the Ohio Democrat's proposal, workers would recoup the full compensation that employers have taken from them, create a civil penalty of $2,000 when employers violate minimum wage and overtime protections and increase the time that employees have to bring a claim for owed wages.
The bill also would make it easier for employees to take collective action to recover their stolen wages and remove the current requirement that employees affirmatively “opt-in” to engage in a collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Last November, Brown introduced legislation to take action against employers that misclassify their workers to cheat them out of wages, benefits, and important workplace protections – one of the practices that contributes to wage theft. He has also introduced bills to raise the minimum wage, expand paid sick leave to all workers and support workers’ right to bargain with employers.