By JoAnne Powers, April 1, 2016
Advocates for low wage workers say that Los Angeles is the wage theft capital of the united states and that without a properly staffed local office, many workers might not have the ability to earn $15 per hour come January, 2022.
Los Angeles county officials will be voting on the ordinance during their next scheduled meeting.
Ernesto Arce has more from Los Angeles.
According to the UCLA labor study, low wage workers in Los Angeles lose more than $26.2 million dollars each week to wage theft.
Last fall, Los Angeles County officials formed a Wage Enforcement Program to ensure wages are paid fairly and in a timely manner. But with an estimated three quarters of a million workers getting a minimum wage raise, the effort won’t be easy.
Tia Koonse with the UCLA Labor Center, said a state agency tasked with investigating such alleged crimes has a serious backlog.
[Tia Koonse]: “Nobody wants to increase their labor costs unless someone actually holds them to account for that. it’s actually unlawful to pay anybody less than minimum wage. and undocumented workers must be paid, and are eligible for every single wage-and-hour right that their documented counterparts are.”
Koonse joined the Los Angeles Coalition Against Wage Theft in calling for a county-wide ordinance with enough funding to go after unscrupulous employers.
Anthony Vallecillo works at a warehouse in Wilmington near the port of Los Angeles. He said many of his coworkers are undocumented and often suffer from routine accounting mistakes or don’t get paid for overtime.
[Anthony Vallecillo ]: “Some of our undocumented workers, they’ve been working there for 10, 15 years, and they were afraid to become part of the group because of retaliation of them firing them. and they’re still scared to this day.”
The new office will begin operating on June 1 to deal with investigations, education, outreach, negotiations, and settlement of non paid wages. The Wage Enforcement Program is estimated to cost $800,000, but the county hopes to increase staff to nearly 40 employees by the time the county’s minimum wage reaches $15 an hour.
Businesses that fail to comply could face thousands of dollars in fines and lose their operating permits.
Gil Cedillo, Los Angeles City Council member, said he hopes that the county’s Wage Enforcement Program brings justice to many workers who claim they’ve been cheated.
[Gil Cedillo]: "“Lets be very clear: wage theft is very pervasive and takes place in ways that we dont necessarily see. it takes place when people dont pay the minimum wage. it takes place when people are asked to work 9, 10, 11, 12 hours and still make the same salary without overtime. and it affects our economy."
Some of the common complaints include violating minimum wage laws, not paying workers overtime and forcing them to work off the clock. Critics of the creation of a county program argued that the state should be responsible for enforcement and that the money could be used for other services.
Advocates say wage-theft complaints previously filed with the California Labor Commissioners Office took too long to be investigated and left workers waiting months to receive their back pay.
For Workers Independent News, Ernesto Arce, Los Angeles