Democrats propose crackdown on 'wage theft'
© Hill file photo

Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced legislation aimed at cracking down on “wage theft” by employers.

The bill — spearheaded by Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayPublic option fades with little outcry from progressives Senate GOP blocks bill to combat gender pay gap OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden suspends Arctic oil leases issued under Trump |  Experts warn US needs to better prepare for hurricane season | Progressives set sights on Civilian Climate Corps MORE (D-Wash.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) — would toughen the penalties on employers who are found guilty of “wage theft,” which is when employees do not receive their paycheck or receive only a portion of the amount owed to them.

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The legislation would increase the time frame a worker has to file a complaint after termination from two to four years and simplify the process for employees to file collective action.

DeLauro said the bill "will strengthen current federal law and empower employees to recover their lost wages."

While the legislation is not aimed at helping undocumented workers, they would stand to benefit from it, Democrats acknowledged.

“Oftentimes, it’s the workers who have the most to lose by speaking out against wage theft who are most affected by it," Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who introduced the bill, told The Hill Friday.

Cariño Barragán, a campaign coordinator at Seattle's Casa Latina — a non-profit that helps Hispanic workers deal with labor issues — said illegal immigrant workers are at special risk of falling prey to wage theft. 

The Department of Labor estimates non-citizens are 1.6 to 3.1 times more likely to be victims of some form of wage theft.

Immigrant workers are vulnerable "because of their migratory status, fear of filing complaints and threats of dismissal and calls to immigration authorities, but sometimes because of [the threat] of reduced work hours," Barragán said.

While the bill does not provide for undocumented workers specifically, it does not alter the applicability of the Fair Labor Standards Act to that category of workers. 

Casa Latina has found that directed investigations by the Department of Labor are as effective in protecting workers' rights as worker complaints, according to Barragan.  

"Boosting economic security for more workers is an important step in our efforts to help the economy grow from the middle out, not the top down," said Murray. 

The Senate version of the bill has 10 Democratic sponsors, including Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThe Memo: The center strikes back Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Democrats have turned solidly against gas tax MORE (Mass.) and Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownBiden moves to undo Trump trade legacy with EU deal How Biden can get the infrastructure bill through Congress Democrats reintroduce bill to create 'millionaires surtax' MORE (Ohio).