California Workers Could See More Protection Against Wage Theft

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California Workers Could See More Protection Against Wage Theft

Teddy Wilson

The new legislation would give the California labor commissioner the ability to place a lien on the property of an employer cited for wage theft.

While California has some of the strongest wage theft laws in the country, regulators have little authority to enforce those laws. That may change after a bill passed last week by the Democratic-led state legislature.

SB 588, sponsored by Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), would give the California labor commissioner such authority, including the ability to place a lien on the property of an employer cited for wage theft, and require businesses to pay a bond of at least $50,000 to $150,000 to remain open.

The bill was passed on Thursday by a vote of 28-11 in the senate, two days after being passed by a vote of 58-18 in the assembly.

Wage theft has cost Californians around $29 million in lost income per week, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Labor. The study also found that more than 300,000 wage and salary workers in California are victims of wage theft.

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“Stealing the pay of employees who don’t make that much money to begin with is unconscionable. It takes food off their tables and makes it difficult—if not impossible—to provide for their families,” De León told Southern California Public Radio. “With SB 588 we can give the Labor Commissioner the tools necessary to enforce the law for the workers and target the bad actors to level the playing field for honest businesses.”

The legislation was passed just weeks after another victory for workers in the state. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a decision involving a California company that expanded the definition of “joint employer” and opened the door for workers in franchised industries to unionize.

Wage theft and other forms of wage discrimination are issues that have received more attention recently not just in California, but throughout the country. This year, corporations such as Walmart, Papa John’s and Dave & Buster’s have been the subjects of lawsuits and complaints alleging large-scale wage theft.

An investigation by the Department of Labor into allegations of wage theft ended with judgments of $700,000 in back wages and penalties for construction workers in Utah and Arizona. The Department of Labor recently made it a priority to target employer wage theft practices such as intentionally misclassifying workers as independent contractors.

Matthew Sirolly, director of the Wage Justice Center, told the Los Angeles Times that California’s bill is not a “panacea,” but could improve the system. “Compared to how hard it is now, and how many unreasonable protections there are right now for employers, it’s going to be a lot better,” Sirolly said.

The bill now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown (D) for his signature or veto.