Bosses steal more than burglars like this.
Wage theft takes many forms—workers being forced to work off the clock or work through breaks, not being paid overtime or minimum wage, having tips stolen by managers, being misclassified as independent contractors, or not being paid a prevailing wage dictated by government contracts, among others. And wage theft is a huge problem
. According to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute, in 2012:
Looking in more detail, in the United States in 2012, there were 292,074 robberies of all kinds, including bank robberies, residential robberies, convenience store and gas station robberies, and street robberies. The total value of the property taken in those crimes was $340,850,358. Those are not the robberies that were solved; those are all the robberies that were reported to the police, anywhere in the nation. [...]
- U.S. DOL recovered $280 million from wage and hour violators.
- State departments of labor in 44 states recovered $172 million.
- State attorneys general in 45 states recovered $14 million.
- Private attorneys recovered $467 million in wage and hour class action lawsuits.
We have not been able to determine how much more was recovered for wage theft victims by six state departments of labor (Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Indiana, Louisiana, and Vermont) and five attorneys general (Arizona, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Oklahoma), so the 2012 total is greater than $933 million.
And that's just what we know about, the cases where something like justice prevailed. But that's likely a small fraction of the total wage theft workers suffered, and the law isn't doing enough to prevent wage theft:
Finally, as we have pointed out in a report for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the penalties under federal law for even willful and repeat violations of the law are minimal. The maximum civil monetary penalty for failure to pay the minimum wage or the required overtime premium is $1,100. For giant corporations such as Wal-Mart and Dollar General, maximum civil money penalties per violation should probably be at least $25,000, while small businesses should be subject to smaller fines—perhaps $5,000 per violation. Clearly, the fines should be sufficient to deter violations and to make it economically unwise to violate the law.
Continue reading below the fold for more of the week's labor and education news.
A fair day's wage
- Workers shut down Chipotle store over 'borderline sweatshop conditions.'"
- It's hard to work while you're in chemotherapy, so one employer found a solution when one of his workers was diagnosed with cancer: He laid her off. For real:
You are currently engaged in a battle against cancer that will be demanding physically, mentally and emotionally. The symptoms of the disease, the pain medications you will need, and the side effects of the chemotherapy will be significant and distracting. You will not be able to function in my office at the level required while battling for your life. Because of this, I am laying you off without pay as of August 11, 2014. Your last paycheck will be mailed to you this Friday 8/15/14.
The letter, from Pennsylvania oral surgeon Dr. George Visnich, ended with all sorts of good wishes for the ill woman. The good doctor's defense? According to his lawyer, he just wanted to spell things out so the woman could collect unemployment, and he didn't contest her claim for unemployment insurance. Gosh, that's downright generous.
- Strikes, suits, and wrongful firings: Port trucking's wonderful world of endless tension.
- New Jersey is on a sick leave roll! East Orange has passed a paid sick leave bill, making it the fourth city in New Jersey, after Passaic, Newark, and Jersey City. Using population figures from the 2010 census, there are more people in these four cities than in Vermont or Wyoming.
- Let's compare the schedules of a unionized worker at Macy's in New York City and a non-unionized worker at a nearby Zara. At Macy's:
Ms. Ryan knows her schedule three weeks in advance. She works full time and her hours are guaranteed. She has never been sent home without pay because the weather was bad or too few customers showed up for a Labor Day sale on 300-thread-count sheets.
Some weeks, [Sonica Smith] is assigned 24 hours of work; other weeks, she gets only 16. There is never a guaranteed minimum and there are never enough hours to get close to full time.
A new report from the Retail Action Project looks at the burdens unpredictable retail schedules impose on workers.
“At work, all I’m thinking about is: How am I going to pay the rent for the month?” said Ms. Smith, who earns $11 an hour. “How am I going to pay the person who is caring for my kids today?”
She said her last check amounted to only $396 for two weeks of work. “I nearly cried,” she said.
- Speaking of work schedules, Americans are working a lot of nights and weekends.
- Now there's a strike picture. (Double entendre alert.)
- A big win against testing frenzy in Pittsburgh:
The school board in Pittsburgh voted this week to reduce testing in K-5 by 50 percent. This is a huge win for children.
What this means is an additional 33 hours for learning, for recess, for all manner of things other than standardized testing.
- Columnist and Education Law Center attorney Wendy Lecker's take on our real national education standards highlights why I see education as a labor issue, even separate from teachers are treated:
In his ruling, Judge John Dietz found the Texas school finance system unconstitutional. He was guided in his decision by the fundamental purpose of education as articulated by the Texas constitution. According to the state constitution, education is "essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people. It is the foundation of our democracy."
Education prepares us to be adults, to be citizens, to be workers. How it prepares us resonates into adulthood.
This view is echoed in state constitutions across the United States. From Vermont, to Wyoming, to Kentucky, to New York, courts have resoundingly held that the framers of their constitutions intended that public education prepare our young children for their roles as citizens.
Dietz found that to prepare children for citizenship, every school must have a basic set of essential resources: pre-K, small class size, enough teachers, libraries, books, technology, support staff -- including counselors, social workers and paraprofessionals -- and extra services for children with extraordinary needs, adequate facilities and a suitable curriculum. After a lengthy trial, the judge ruled that Texas' school-finance system failed to ensure schools had these basic resources and that, as a result, children in these schools were being denied their constitutional right to an education.
(Via Diane Ravitch)
- Should Bill Gates' money mean Bill Gates gets to determine what history kids learn in school? Because right now, that's exactly what Gates' money means.