Wage theft is a pervasive and often unacknowledged crime in our radically unequal society. Recently CNN reported a 400-percent increase in wage-and-hour violation claims over the last 11 years, a statistic that likely only scratches the surface of unreported wage thefts. While property theft is punishable with jail time, the National Employment Law Center (NELP) estimated (in 2008) that the average low-wage worker loses 15 percent of her annual income to wage theft, through underpayment and denied overtime, among other schemes. Many do not have the support of groups like Make the Road, or in other parts of the country, laws that prioritize such crimes.
NELP's analysis of the nation’s three largest cities—New York, Los Angeles and Chicago—found that over one-fourth of low-wage workers weren’t being paid the minimum wage, while 76 percent weren’t compensated for overtime work. There is no reason to think conditions are better elsewhere. Across the nation, millions are forced to work off-the-clock, misclassified as “independent contractors” to avoid taxes (which the workers then have to pay themselves), their paychecks tampered with, their time sheets altered. Walmart is an example of a national company that has indulged in almost all of these practices.
Enabled by staggering power differentials between employers and workers, these practices have become the norm in many low-wage industries (in 2000 the Department of Labor found 100 percent of poultry companies were in violation of wage and hour laws). In the absence of a strong labor movement and robust federal and state departments of labor, low-wage workers are left to fend for themselves in a weak job market. Immigrants who lack proper documentation are particularly susceptible to thieving bosses, who often threaten to turn their employees over to the police if they complain.
And the massive power of the business lobby in the GOP will assure national laws to protect workers will never, ever get passed. Even in blue states like New York, wage theft laws are still a long and time-consuming process for the workers to handle.
Unions would make this process much easier, but of course unions are "dead" after Wisconsin's recall election and are slowly being strangled everywhere else for the sole reason that for American workers to be competitive in the global marketplace, their standards of living have to be lowered in order for CEOs to continue to make 500 times what their lowest paid workers make.
And you'd think conservatives would be the first to say that with "taxes being theft" and all, actual wage theft would rank high on their outrage-o-meter. Sadly, conservatives don't give a damn because only "those brown people" or "those single women on welfare" get their wages stolen, not real Americans.
All hail the job creators.
Soon you won't have any other choice.