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  • Labor Department: $724,000 Wages Stolen From 275 Madison-Area Restaurant and Hotel Workers
    Posted On: May 16, 2016

    By JoAnne Powers, May 17, 2016

    The United States Labor Department has announced that two dozen Madison, Wisconsin-area restaurants and hotels allegedly owe several hundred thousand dollars in stolen back wages to 275 low-wage workers.  The Department’s Wage and Hour Division monitors compliance with federal labor laws on such things as minimum wage and overtime.  With wage theft at epidemic levels in the entertainment industry, they have been conducting targeted investigations at randomly-selected restaurants and hotels in college towns throughout the Midwest.  David King is Wage and Hour Division District Director for Wisconsin and Minnesota:

    [David King]: “Before we even talk to an employer about the back wages that are owed they have to tell us what they’re going to do to pay people correct from here on out.  And then, once they’ve got that, and a commitment to pay correctly in the future, then we’ll tell them, alright, we found out that these people are due the amount that we computed, and they’ll pay that.”

    Worker advocates such as Patrick Hickey, Director of Madison’s Workers’ Rights Center, have been fighting against wage theft for years:

    [Patrick Hickey]: “This is really helpful when they draw attention to the problem like this.  They did just a random sample of some hotels and restaurants here in the Madison area, if they had sampled other restaurants and hotels, I think they would have found the exact same thing.  So, what they’ve done here really is just scratching the surface.  It levels the playing field for those employers that do go out of their way and make an effort to follow the rules and follow the law.  This also, I think, emboldens workers when they see that the laws are enforced and workers in these industries can win some justice and the government will investigate and stand up for them.”

    Cases of wage theft such as those found by the Department of Labor investigation overwhelmingly impact low-income and immigrant workers.  King stressed that labor law never talks about immigration status:

    [David King]: “One of the things we don’t do is ever check on a person’s immigration status.  That’s none of our business.  But we do recognize that a person who’s here maybe not on a legal status, or a person who only speaks a language that’s not English, would fall into what we might call a vulnerable worker category.  The Department is aware that vulnerable workers are the ones that are probably not being paid correctly.”

    The 724 thousand dollars represents the correct amount these workers should have been paid had they been paid in compliance with the law.

     [David King]: “It’s not penalty amounts.  It’s not fines.  It’s money that goes from the employer directly to the employee.  This money is not paid to the government.  This is a lot of money.  These are employees that are making minimum wage or less.  These are the people that are washing dishes and cleaning hotel rooms that have not been paid, and some of them it might be several thousand dollars.  We’re not talking about getting these people luxury goods.  We’re talking about making it possible for them to pay their rent and buy food.”

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