Forum and action at “El Super” market highlight urgency to fix enforcement failures with SB 588, the Fair Day’s Pay Act
Los Angeles – State Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) joined workers who have experienced wage theft at a “Fair Day’s Pay” town hall on Friday, August 21. Airline services, janitorial and restaurant workers were among those who shared their stories to expose how weaknesses in our laws and enforcement of those laws enable corporations use to cheat workers. The event also served as a forum to discuss policy solutions needed to improve enforcement of laws against wage theft and help workers collect pay they’ve earned.
“Today’s event demonstrated how exploitation of workers is pervasive in the low-wage economy. Our policymakers must respond at every level to strengthen enforcement and deter future crimes against workers,” said Alexandra Suh, Executive Director of the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA). “Los Angeles City and County leaders are moving forward with critical enforcement solutions, and SB 588 is a necessary next step at the state level to target bad actors and help workers recover money they’ve earned.”
“Our laws are only good as our ability to enforce them. But some employers continue to steal from workers without fear of consequences,” said Sen. De Leon, who has authored SB 588, the Fair Day’s Pay Act. “I want to give our Labor Commissioner the tools necessary to enforce the law. And I want to give law-breaking employers something to fear.”
The University of California at Los Angeles Labor Center has dubbed Los Angeles “the wage theft capital of the country” after a 2010 study found that more than $1 billion in wages are stolen from low-wage workers in the area each year. Even when workers win a wage theft claim in court, five out of six never see a cent of what they are owed.
Common forms of wage theft include paying less than the minimum wage, paying workers for fewer hours than were worked, misclassifying workers as independent contractors, or failing to pay overtime as required by law. In addition to the financial toll wage theft takes on families, a study conducted by Human Impact Partners found wage theft harms the health and well-being of workers in low-wage jobs and their families with adverse consequences including poor living conditions, food insecurity, stress, anxiety and depression.
The problem of wage theft is vast and the solution requires nothing less than the full and effective joint enforcement of California’s labor laws, on the city, county and state level. This year, when the city of Los Angeles moved to raise its minimum wage, it also made great strides in enforcing this new wage by establishing a local office to receive, investigate, and decide complaints of violations, and issue citations to violators. The County of Los Angeles recently voted to introduce ordinances to raise its minimum wage and create a county-wide enforcement agency.
At the State level, Sen. De León has proposed SB 588, the Fair Day’s Pay Act, to beef up wage theft enforcement in California. The bill, which is expected to pass the Assembly and land on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk in the coming weeks, would target bad actors and strengthen the State Labor Commissioner’s ability to collect wages owed to workers.
“Loopholes in enforcement of current laws let deadbeat employers get away with stealing from workers, and that has to stop,” said David Huerta, President of SEIU – United Service Workers West. “Having made change at the local level to prevent wage theft, workers and community partners are setting our sights on passing SB 588. This bill targets bad actors and gives workers a fighting change of collecting wages they’ve rightfully earned.”
Following the forum, participants demonstrated the growing energy behind a movement to combat wage theft as they marched to the nearby El Super store in Highland Park. The El Super chain was recently slapped with six-figure fines and penalties by the State Labor Commissioner after an investigation uncovered widespread wage theft.
“Workers are fed up with the corporations like El Super who’ve not only stolen our pay but stolen our dignity. That’s why we’re standing up to demand change,” said Amy Martinez who worked for an El Super store for two years and is part of a wage theft claim before the California Labor Commission.
Today’s event was sponsored by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) California and the California Fair Paycheck Coalition of low-wage workers, community organizations, worker centers, and labor organizations.