Democrats unveil bill to crack down on 'wage theft'

Democrats unveil bill to crack down on 'wage theft'
© Greg Nash

Three congressional Democrats on Wednesday introduced legislation that would crack down on employers who don’t pay their workers all the wages they earn.

Sens. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDemocrats turn on Al Franken VA slashes program that helps homeless veterans obtain housing: report The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (Wash.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownThe Hill's 12:30 Report Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Overnight Regulation: Feds push to clarify regs on bump stocks | Interior wants Trump to shrink two more monuments | Navajo Nation sues over monument rollback | FCC won't delay net neutrality vote | Senate panel approves bill easing Dodd-Frank rules MORE (Ohio), and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) unveiled the measure that would significantly strengthen enforcement and penalties for businesses that force their employees to work off the clock, steal tips, don't pay for all hours worked or deny overtime or minimum wage pay.

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“Too many people across the country go to work every day to support themselves and their families only to have their bosses cheat them out of their hard-earned pay,” said Murray, Murray, ranking member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

“This bill would help even the playing field for the vast majority of businesses that are treating their workers fairly, and it would empower more workers by making sure their paychecks reflect the hours and hard work they put in on the job,” Murray said.

The measure would give workers more power to recover lost wages, receive full compensation for all of the work they perform, as well as the right to receive regular pay stubs and final paychecks in a timely manner. 

Brown said that "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," he said. 

The policy falls in line with other Democratic efforts that include raising the minimum wage, fair scheduling, updating overtime rules and paycheck fairness. 

The bill also would provide workers with improved tools to recover their stolen wages in court and make assistance available to build community partnerships that enhance the enforcement of and improve compliance with wage and hour laws.

“The greatest economic challenge facing our country today is that too many people are in jobs that do not pay them enough," DeLauro said.

"That issue is exacerbated by the growing epidemic of wage theft. Plain and simple — employees should be paid for their work. All of their work," she said. 

The measure also would create, a civil penalty of $2,000 when employers violate minimum wage and overtime protections, would require employers to pay final paychecks within 14 days of separation and would require employers to pay all wages owed to an employee. 

Concern over wage theft has grown in recent years with employees, many times those in low-wage sectors where women and foreign-born workers are most effected. The measure would apply to undocumented workers.

The left-leaning Economic Policy Institute published a report a year ago concluding that wage theft “in the United States is a huge problem for struggling workers.” 

“Surveys reveal that the underpayment of owed wages can reduce affected workers’ income by 50 percent or more,” the report said.