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A full day's work doesn't mean a full day's pay for too many low-wage workers as they fall prey to wage theft. A new report from the Progressive States Network makes clear why so many employers systematically deprive workers of money they've earned: They don't have to worry about facing serious penalties if they're caught, so stealing workers' wages is a profitable, low-risk enterprise. As a result:
  • 64% of low-wage workers experience wage theft each week
  • 26% are paid under the legal minimum wage
  • 76% of workers owed overtime go unpaid or underpaid
  • On average, low-wage workers lose $51 per week to wage theft, or $2,634 per year

For low-wage workers, that amounts to 15% of their annual income, at average earnings of $17,616 per year.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act is important, but doesn't apply in all cases, so state statutes protecting workers from wage theft are especially important. Do they even define what it means to be an employee or employer, giving workers protections from being misclassified as independent contractors? That move allows businesses to not only avoid wage laws but workers' compensation and unemployment insurance as well, and on top of everything misclassification cheats workers out of, it also cheats the government of taxes the employers should be paying. Beyond that, do states protect workers from retaliation for reporting violations, require formal notice of wages and paydays, assure workers of access to detailed pay records, provide for payment of damages beyond just the stolen wages? The report does not grade on a curve, and the weakness of laws in every state is striking—the highest-ranking state, New York, got a C+. Two states, Alabama and Mississippi, scored zero.

This should not be controversial: You should get paid for every hour you work. If you work overtime, you should get paid for working overtime. But American law doesn't ensure that this will happen. And what do you want to bet that attempts to strengthen these laws would be met by business lobbies and Republican politicians squealing about the cost to job creators wage thieves?

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Wed Jun 13, 2012 at 12:37 PM PDT.

Also republished by ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement, Progressive Hippie, and German American Friendship Group.

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