In a victory for low-wage workers victimized by unscrupulous employers, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill this week making it easier for employees to collect wages they’re owed.
Employers found to have stolen wages—and shell corporations created to evade judgements—must post a bond of between $50,000 and $150,000 or risk the statewide banning of their operations. If they don’t pay up, the act empowers the Labor Commissioner to authorize a stop-work order against them or attach a lien to the employer’s property. The law also ensures that companies with contract employees—for janitorial services, landscaping and valet parking, for example—are held liable for stolen wages.
Though California is home to some of the country’s strongest labor unions, wage theft among immigrant and low-wage workers persists. In Los Angeles alone, dubbed “the wage theft capital” of the United States, some $26.2 million in wages are stolen from laborers every week. Moreover, according to a 2013 study from the UCLA Labor Center and National Employment Law Project, only 17 percent of workers who took their employers to task for stolen wages were able to recover any back pay, their employers often forming shell corporations or handing over operations to another entity in order to avoid fulfilling court orders—a fact Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), the bill’s author, cites as motivation for the law’s urgent passage.
“There have been a lot of judgements against dishonest businesses; the problem has been the collection,” said de Leon. “This is going to provide a level playing field for the honest businesses who pay their workers, and help workers collect the pay they’ve earned.”
For David Huerta, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) United Service Workers West, who, in partnership with several labor organizations including the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA) and the Wage Justice Center, championed the bill’s passage, the law addresses more than just wage fairness.
“Victims of wage theft are very often immigrants, women and people of color,” said Huerta. “[The Fair Day’s Pay Act] is about more than just economic rights, it’s about civil rights and immigrant rights. It took years of effort, but workers and community leaders came together and showed that we can win economic justice for the people of California.”
Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Jobs Now on Flickr