Brown bill goes after wage theft


You may be the victim of wage theft and not even know it.

According to a survey of workers by the National Employment Law Project, 26 percent of those surveyed were paid less than the minimum wage in the week prior to the survey and 76 percent of those who worked more than 40 hours were not paid the legally-required overtime rate.

If you were or are one of those people, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) says help is on the way.

On Wednesday, Brown (D-OH) introduced legislation he says will stand up for working families by cracking down on wage theft. The Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act would give workers the right to receive full compensation for all of the work they perform, as well as the right to receive regular paystubs and final paychecks in a timely manner.

Brown said it would also provide workers with improved tools to recover their stolen wages and make assistance available to build community partnerships that enhance the enforcement of and compliance with wage and hour laws.

“When bosses don’t pay their workers what they’re owed, it robs them of money they earned for their hard work and hurts businesses that play by the rules,” Brown said. “It’s shameful that employers are reaching into the pockets of low-income workers who have bills to pay and families to feed. We must create a system where employers who steal wages are held accountable and workers have the tools they need to recover their wages when they’ve been cheated.”

Brown said “wage theft,” is the practice of not paying employees for all their work, refers to a range of wage and hour violations including: forcing people to work off the clock, refusing to pay workers the minimum wage, denying workers overtime pay — even after working more than 40 hours a week, stealing workers’ tips, or knowingly misclassifying workers to avoid paying fair wages.

During a news conference call on Wednesday, Brown was joined by Brennan Grayson, director of the Interfaith Workers Center in Cincinnati, who helped organize support for the City of Cincinnati’s recently-passed wage theft ordinance – the first of its kind in Ohio.

In its 11 years of operation the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center, with the help of its members and partners in law enforcement, has helped employees recover more than $1.2 million in unpaid wages.

“Only a fraction of wage theft victims have the awareness of their rights to know they are being cheated, and even those who are aware either don’t take action or can’t fully recover their wages. This is wrong,” Grayson said. “Senator Brown’s bill is the type of change we need to begin making things right, to begin restoring dignity to wage earners.”

The bill would require employers to pay all wages owed to an employee. Currently, workers can only recover wages at the minimum wage or, for overtime hours, 1.5 times their regular wage; for example, an employee may be hired at $9.00 per hour, but would only have the right to recover $7.25 of every $9.00 she was owed. This bill would help workers recoup the full compensation that employers have taken from them.

By Frank Lewis

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Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.

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