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Wage theft may change in the future

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U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, introduced legislation on March 16 that could potentially prevent wage theft.

The Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act would allow workers to receive all of the money they should from the work they have performed.

The bill would also require employers to provide information of the employees’ employment with regular pay stubs and pay a fine if violated. Employers will have to pay final paychecks within 14 days of separation or by the payday for the pay period.

In addition, it would strengthen protection for employees who file a complaint against employers for wage theft and create a penalty for employers who violate the minimum wage. It will also allow employees to file a claim from up to four years, where it is currently two years.

Rachel Petri, press secretary for U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, explains where the bill is currently located.

“On background, the Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee,” Petri said. “A companion bill has also been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

Brown believes that workers do not get the fair treatment that they should.

“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 press release. “It’s shameful that employers are reaching into the pockets of low-income workers who have bills to pay and families to feed. 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.”

According to a study for the National Employment Law Project, the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and the Center on Urban Economic Development Fully, 26 percent of workers were paid less than the legally required minimum wage in the previous work week. More than a quarter of respondents worked more than 40 hours during the previous week. Of those, 76 percent were not paid the legally required overtime rate by their employers.

Brennan Grayson, director of the Interfaith Workers Center in Cincinnati, helped pass the wage theft ordinance in Cincinnati.

“Only a fraction of wage theft victims have the awareness of their rights to know they are being cheated, and even those who are aware either don’t take action or can’t fully recover their wages.  This is wrong,” Grayson said during a conference call with Sen. Brown. “Senator Brown’s bill is the type of change we need to begin making things right, to begin restoring dignity to wage earners.”

Jeff Zinsmeyer, president and board of directors at The Discount Foundation, believes that wage theft is an important subject.

According to a variety of academic studies (some cited in that report) Wage theft has massive distributional impact on the working poor. Billions of annual salary is not paid to low wage workers to have earned it. The argument can be made that entire industries thrive because of failure to pay overtime, wages due, withholding and other requirements.”

“The bill has been endorsed by several organizations including: AFL-CIO, SEIU, NELP, NWLC, EPI, United Farm Workers, and Interfaith Justice Center,” Petri said.

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