January 29, 2023

Photo by John Flynn

Friday December 2nd, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

The City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Thursday to prevent wage theft by employers.

“Breaking wage laws harms workers and their families,” said Councilor Ann Kitchen, who is a resolution initiate regulation. “This regulation will help ensure they get paid what they deserve.”

That regulation creates a post for a City Wage Theft Coordinator tasked with helping victims of wage theft file complaints with the appropriate authorities.

Workers can complain to the Coordinator about any employer in the city that fails to pay wages owed, withholds benefits, does not keep payroll, or misrepresents workers as independent contractors. Employees can also report an employer who is taking revenge on them for making a complaint.

The ordinance also prevents employers who have committed wage theft from doing business with the city and establishes a database of employers involved in city contracts who have been found guilty of wage theft.

The city has no authority to prosecute violations of wage theft; this responsibility lies with the federal states and the federal government. Employers who commit wage theft can be fined or even imprisoned.

A prominent local example of alleged wage theft surfaced last month when construction workers at Tesla’s Gigafactory said their employers withheld wages and other labor law violations. The US Department of Labor is investigating the complaint.

The impact of wage theft on workers’ lives can be huge, said Christopher Willett of the Equal Justice Center, with some losing their ability to pay rent and bills and support themselves.

AAdvocates say wage theft is a big problem in Texas, particularly in the construction industry.

“Texas continues to be one of the worst states for stolen wages,” said Jeremy Hendricks of the Laborers’ International Union, which represents construction and service workers.

In a 2013 to learn by Workers Defense Project, a nonprofit based in Texas, one in five construction workers surveyed reported being victims of wage theft. Of these, one in three said their employer retaliated against them for lodging a complaint.

The study also found that wage theft results in at least $117 million in lost wages and $8.8 million in lost sales tax revenue annually nationwide.

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