DHN Letter: Wage Theft Investigations

June 22, 2009

Members of the LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20005

Dear Representative,

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 adequately enforce. 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, meat processing, and other industries. This is a violation of Wage and Hour law and is a crime that robs from those with the least. Estimates of 3 million workers not paid the minimum wage and a minimum of $19 billion a year in unpaid overtime bring total estimates to $20-$50 billion a year owed to workers but not paid.

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.

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,

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