the media focus on a handful of states passing anti-immigrant measures, the
unreported story has been the increasing crackdown by state governments on wage
law violators as a response to the growing underground economy. A few
The Arizona and Ohiominimum
wage ballot initiatives passed by voters in 2006 included new triple
damages against employers violating their state wage laws.
In 2008, Massachusettsmade it the law, SB 1059, that triple
damages will be mandatory for violations of that state's wage law.
IowaSF 2416 (approved in the
Senate) would have established triple damages for wage law violations and
created significantly larger civil penalties, including severe penalties
for retaliation against employees reporting violations.
contracting laws in a few states and cities now deny public contracts or
operating licenses to wage law violators. See Los
Angeles Responsible Contractor Ordinance for one example and San
city minimum wage for provisions that authorize city agencies to revoke
permits or licenses for businesses that violate the law.
A number of
jurisdictions are increasingly applying "theft of wages"
statutes to enforce criminal sanctions against wage law violators. Many states already have "theft of
wages" statutes on the books, so all that is needed is to enforce
these provisions. See NELP's Using
Criminal Theft of Service Laws To Enforce Workers' Right to be Paid (NELP) for more on
how to use such criminal theft statutes or add them to a state's criminal
The federal government is fixated on raiding workplaces in search of
immigrant workers, but they have practically abandoned punishing
irresponsible employers violating wage, workplace safety and child
labor laws. Demonstrating a remarkable commitment to punishing the
victims, they've left it up to states to take action against the more
pervasive problem of sweatshop labor conditions.
Instead of allowing the right-wing to scapegoat undocumented immigrant
workers, Progressive States Network will be working with progressive
leaders across the country to introduce wage enforcement laws that
emphasize that native and immigrant workers both suffer under illegal
working conditions. See State Immigration Project: Policy Options for 2009 for the full range of immigration policies Progressive States Network is supporting in upcoming legislative sessions.
The Iowa Senate on Tuesday approved SF 2416,
a bill to sharply increase fines on employers violating Iowa state wage
laws, crack down on the practice of misclassifying employees as
"independent contractors" to evade those laws, and protect workers
reporting violations from retaliation.
In honor of Labor Day, we thought we would highlight some of our past
Dispatches which outline steps states can take to protect workers'
rights and raise wage standards. With new Census data
showing that the median
income for working-age households is still $1,300 below 2001 when the last
recession hit bottom, the need for states to act to improve working conditions
is greater than ever.
The good news is that over thirty states and the federal government raised the minimum wage in recent years. The bad news is that many employers, even most employers in some industries, ignore existing wage and workplace regulations, so the real challenge now is to stop the systematic violation of these laws.