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the penalties and the law, one key to enforcement is making sure agencies are
well-funded and creatively coordinate their work for maximum effectiveness. Instead of promoting a narrow tactic like
sanctions against employers of undocumented workers, which only drives the
problem of low-wage employment underground, New York Statehas created a new Bureau
of Immigrant Workers' Rights. This new
already moved forward in cracking down on low-wage law violators - sending a van out to
churches and community groups to encourage immigrant workers to come forward to
report wage law violations - teaching an important lesson that outreach, not
pushing immigrants into the shadows, is the key to raising wage standards for
are also increasingly targeting the employer tactic of misclassifying
employees as "independent contractors," which excludes
workers from minimum wage, prevailing wage, overtime, health and safety,
and right to organize protections. Because
of these problems, cracking down on misclassification of independent
contractors is becoming a priority for many states:
In 2007, Minnesota and Colorado both enacted new
laws cracking down on misclassification of employees as "independent
contractors" to evade state wage laws.
legislatures in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana,
Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New
Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island,
Vermont,and Wisconsin all introduced new laws to
crack down on employers misclassifying employees as independent contractors
to evade wage laws.
2008, Utah, SB 159 makes it fraud to
misclassify an employee to avoid the obligation to obtain workers'
compensation insurance coverage, and SB 189 establishes a
council to study how to reduce costs resulting from the misclassification
The New York
Attorney General's office has aggressively pursued wage claims against joint employers, including against
large supermarket and drugstore chains for unpaid wages due to delivery
workers misclassified as independent contractors.
law, Pub. Act. No. 07-89, provides that
employers who misrepresent the number or type of their employees for
purposes of the workers' compensation system, can be issued a stop work order
and ordered to pay a fine of up to $1,000. In 2008, ConnecticutHB 5113 and SB
established a commission to review the problem of employer
misclassification for purposes of avoiding obligations under state and
federal labor, employment, and tax laws.
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.
As families in Iowa struggle to make ends meet, they are justified in feeling threatened when they see what were once good jobs turned into low-wage, sweatshop labor.
In industries across the country, workers are not receiving the wages owed them under minimum-wage and overtime laws. Earlier this decade, a U.S. Department of Labor report found that 60 percent of U.S. nursing homes routinely violated overtime, minimum-wage or child-labor laws. Other studies have found similar levels of violations in the garment and restaurant industries.
In Iowa, the minimum-wage and overtime laws have some of the weakest enforcement provisions of any state in the country. Penalties usually amount to no more than telling employers to pay what they originally owed their workers. Because legal action is so expensive and so likely to produce meager returns, few employees can afford to pursue claims. Because civil fines are so low, the state doesn't collect enough for strong, ongoing enforcement.