Wage Theft and the Trump Administration: Who Will Protect Workers?

October 25, 2017

Wage Theft and the Trump Administration: Who Will Protect Workers?

Wage theftWhen President Trump nominated fast-food king Andrew Puzder to be his labor secretary, many took the move as a hint to employers that the days of the Department of Labor protecting vulnerable workers from wage theft were over.

Advocates of worker’s rights had some hope after Puzder’s nomination was withdrawn. But when Alexander Acosta was tapped to fill the position, one former colleague during Acosta’s time at the Economic Policy Institute predicted that he would likely make decisions, “even if they’re not always to the liking of the labor movement.”

With Ohio’s minimum wage set to increase to $8.30 per hour in January 2018, some are concerned about how potentially exploited workers might fare under Secretary Acosta and the Trump administration. Unfortunately, most workers will likely have no defender at the Department of Labor against wage and hour violations. Rather workers will be forced to rely on state, county, and municipal laws and authorities or enforce the federal law through their own private law suits. Although most of these jurisdictions have the own laws on the books, many of these statutes are weak and without teeth when it comes to enforcement. Workers who suspect wage and hour violations should seek advice from an attorney in light of the current leadership in this administration tasked as the watch dog to protect workers from wage and hour violations.

State and local governments can make a difference. According to a Prospect report, simply increasing the penalties for wage violations could be enough to reduce wage theft. Most wage violations are hidden because workers fear retaliation job loss, deportation or abuse if they come forward, but a 2008 survey concluded that 26 percent of low-wage employees had been paid less than the minimum wage in the previous week, with 60 percent underpaid by more than $1 per hour. More than three quarters of those who worked over 40 hours received no overtime pay.

What Can Be Done?

Research published in the June 2016 issue of Perspectives in Politics concluded that in states that penalize unfair employers more severely (such as Massachusetts and New Mexico), the probability that workers would be the victim of wage theft was much lower than among comparable workers in states with weaker laws (like Virginia). The probability that a low-wage worker in a state with strong employment laws was found to be about 14 percent, compared to 22 percent for a similar worker in a state with weaker employment laws.

Although state-level policy-making for stronger employment laws has stalled in many states, the enactment of stronger policies at the city and county levels could benefit millions of low-wage workers. If you have been a victim of wage theft in Ohio, we can help. Contact Murray & Murray online or call 419-624-3000 today.

 

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