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Proposed legislation aims to stop dishonest employers, help collect back wages for workers cheated out of pay

(Salem, Ore.)—The Senate Committee on Workforce today held a public hearing on proposed legislation that would make it more difficult for companies to get away with cheating workers. The bill is backed by Fair Shot For All, a coalition of more than 30 community groups, labor unions and racial justice organizations in Oregon.

“Wage theft happens every day in Oregon. Stealing hard-earned wages is a crime that hurts workers and their families along with all the responsible business owners who can’t compete with violators who don’t pay workers,” said D. Michael Dale of the Northwest Workers’ Justice Project. 

A broad group participated in the hearing to call on the legislature to take action this session, including: Gerhard Taeubel and Paloma Spark, Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI); Chris Hewitt, Oregon Nurses Association; D. Michael Dale, Northwest Workers’ Justice Project; and Darrin Boyce, an impacted worker. 

Wage theft occurs when employers do any of the following:

  • Pay less than minimum wage;
  • Do not pay overtime;
  • Deny meal and break periods, or
  • Pay for fewer hours than an employee has worked,  or simply don’t pay at all.

“I know all too well what it means to be cheated,” said Darrin Boyce, a sheet metal worker from Portland who has been a victim of wage theft more than once in his career. “I have a family to support. When my employer doesn’t pay me for all my time, I’m left struggling to get by. Not knowing how much I’m going to get paid also makes it tough each month to know if I can cover my family’s expenses or not.”

Wage theft happens frequently in Oregon and it impacts workers across numerous industries, including retail, restaurants, grocery stores, domestic work, blue-collar industries, construction and personal services. A worker earning minimum wage who is denied just half an hour’s worth of wages a day adds up to more than $1,400 a year. For families struggling to get by, that can be the difference between paying rent on time and facing eviction.

Workers report an average of $4.7 million in stolen wages every year and many incidences aren’t reported at all, making the actual sum much higher. Even when workers go through the difficult process of winning a wage theft claim, many can’t  recover the money they are owed. Between 2010-2013, BOLI ruled on 3,303 claims of stolen wages totaling $6.2 million. However, of those claims, employers only paid 28% of stolen wages back to workers.

“We urge the legislature to make the promise of Oregon’s labor laws real,” said  Dale “It’s time to protect our workers who are cheated the most—women, people of color and low-wage workers. This will in turn have ripple effects throughout Oregon’s local economies.”

The proposed legislation will:

  • Give workers additional tools to expose employer wrongdoing
  • Reduce the barriers that prevent workers from getting help and recovering the wages they are owed, and
  • Help build a foundation for comprehensive wage theft reform in 2017

AuthorChristine Saunders