Coalition Letter to Senate: Wage Theft Investigation

September 22, 2009

 

Members of the US Senate

Washington, DC 20005

 

Dear Senator,

 

As communities of faith, in devotion to our common religious traditions of justice and compassion, we are concerned that wage theft is harming the most vulnerable in our society, drawing working people deeper into poverty through dishonest employment practices that the Department of Labor has not been able to address adequately. We write to recommend that the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the Department of Labor receive sufficient funding to add 250 more investigative staff for FY2010 to address increasing incidences of wage theft.

 

Wage theft occurs when workers are not paid legally owed wages. Wage theft is particularly prevalent among low-wage workers and workers in the restaurant, garment, construction, retail, manufacturing, and meat processing industries. This is a violation of Wage and Hour law and is a crime that robs from those with the least.

 

Our shared scripture teaches, “You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or foreigners living in your towns. You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them. (Deuteronomy 24:14-15)

 

One primary reason for the prevalence of wage and hour violations is the lack of enforcement of wage and hour laws. An increase in the number of investigators will not only allow more investigations to be completed, but will allow WHD to conduct significantly more targeted investigations and focus on low-wage workers, as both the House and Senate Appropriations committees directed in their FY2009 appropriations reports.

 

The average low-wage worker in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles in 2008 had $51 stolen out of average weekly earnings of $339, or15% of their pay (see Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers, published by the Center for Urban Economic Development, UCLA, and the National Employment Law Project-- http://nelp.3cdn.net/1797b93dd1ccdf9e7d_sdm6bc50n.pdf). The findings, based on a landmark survey of 4,387 workers, are representative of front-line workers (excluding managers, professional or technical workers) in low-wage industries in the three cities—a population of about 1.64 million workers, or 15 percent of the combined workforce of Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. Illinois, New York, and California have some of the more effective and dedicated state Departments of Labor and state laws, If this had been a national sample, the statistics of wages stolen would undoubtedly have been worse.

 

While we support the U.S. Department of Labor’s appropriation request for $227.7 million and 200 additional investigators for its Wage and Hour Division, we propose that at least 250 investigators are needed. The number of WHD investigators decreased by 22% between 1997-2007 and enforcement actions declined by 37%, according to the Government Accountability Office. Hiring a minimum of 250 additional investigators for FY 2010 will help protect low-wage workers and all those who are denied their hard-earned pay by employers who flout U.S. labor laws.

 

We thank you for considering an increase to FY2010 WHD appropriations to address wage theft.

 

Sincerely,

 

Church Women United

The Episcopal Church

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Interfaith Worker Justice

The National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Sheppard

National Council of Churches of Christ, USA

NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Washington Office

Union for Reform Judaism

United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

The United Methodist Church – General Board of Church and Society