Wednesday, October 28, 2009

LA Councilman Pushes for Wage Theft Criminalization

Labor advocates are pushing for a local ordinance that will make wage-theft a criminal charge.

In most states and cities, penalties for wage-theft are usually given through civil unpaid wage claim procedures.

If the bill passes into law, Los Angeles will join the handful of cities that criminally prosecutes employers who do not follow wage laws for misdemeanor charges.

City councilman Richard Alarcon plans to introduce a motion that would direct the city attorney’s office to write an ordinance that would criminalize wage non-payment.

Alarcon said that he was alarmed by a recent study that a lot of workers from New York Chicago and Los Angeles do not receive minimum wage or overtime pay.

The study showed that 26% are paid below the minimum wage and 76% are not paid the correct overtime rate.

The numbers are taken from the answers of 4,300 respondents

Alarcon said that if criminal penalties are what is needed then there is no reason not to try that.

Most workers would agree, given the high number of cases of unpaid minimum wages and overtime.
It would seem that civil penalties do not discourage the practice and are still rampant to this day.

Hopefully, the ordinance will give the law more teeth and significantly reduce the number of wage theft.

However, there is some opposition to the law, especially from the business community.

The president of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce said that there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the law. He questions what would be the trigger for an arrest and if it would cause additional backlogs in the courts.

Their concern is understandable, as they would like to protect their interests as well.

As the ordinance want to protect employees from unscrupulous employers, the employers in turn want to be assured that they will not be receiving unscrupulous claims as well.

It is a two-way street and the law should also consider the rights of the employer, or it may discourage companies from creating jobs for fear of being sued in the future.

Hopefully both sides can reach an understanding that would benefit each side.