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.
In a dramatic sweep of 117 employers,
a new New York State joint task force of state labor, tax and worker
compensation agencies found that 2,078 employees had been illegally
misclassified as independent contractors, with $19 million in wages not
reported to the state. An additional 646 workers were owed minimum wage and overtime pay totaling $3 million.
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.