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Claims of ‘wage theft’ spark movement to increase federal enforcement, require detailed pay stubs

Posted Apr 4, 2014 2:50 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Amidst a spate of recent lawsuits seeking to hold fast-food restaurants accountable for alleged illegal employment practices that cut into employees' paychecks, advocates for workers are portraying these claimed abuses as part of a bigger so-called wage theft problem that needs to be addressed throughout the country.

Altered time cards, pressure to work off the clock and misclassification of workers to avoid paying overtime or benefits are widespread practices, and enforcement is lacking to address the problem, National Employment Law Project general counsel Catherine Ruckelshaus tells the Kansas City Star.

“There is a .001 chance that any work site will be investigated by the Department of Labor in any given year,” she said. “There just aren’t enough people to enforce the laws. Low-wage workers have it hard finding an attorney willing to take a wage case. And our enforcement system is based on workers willing to come forward and tell their stories—and that’s really hard."

One solution is to require employers to provide workers with pay stubs that clearly show the basis for their compensation, as California and New York have already done, according to Kim Bobo. She founded the national nonprofit Interfaith Worker Justice.

Some federal lawmakers are also urging the U.S. labor secretary to make data on "wage theft" more readily available so that it can be taken into account when federal contracts are awarded, the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Hot Dish Politics blog reports. A March 31 letter details their suggestions.

However, representatives of fast-food restaurants and their supporters say claims of wage theft are exaggerated.

While "individual instances of wage theft are sure to exist," says spokesman Michael Saltsman of the Employment Policies Institute, unions seeking to organize workers are blowing them out of proportion. He also suggested that some surveys indicating widespread problems are compensating workers who participate, potentially skewing the results.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com (2009): "Feds are Gearing Up for Wage-Theft Enforcement Campaign"

ABAJournal.com: "Workers sue McDonald’s in three states over claimed ‘stolen wages,’ seek class-action status"

Des Moines Register: "Senate OKs wage theft bill on straight party-line vote"

Salon: "McDonald’s ex-managers sound off to Salon: Non-existent breaks and illegal overtime"

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