Oregon policymakers, labor leaders and advocates will bring attention to the problem of wage theft at a briefing in the state Capitol.
“Wage theft is a threat not just to individual workers, but to whole communities,” said Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, who leads the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI). “From families who can’t pay their bills to honest business people who are being undercut by crooked competitors, Oregonians are facing the consequences of wage theft every day.”
The policy briefing with state lawmakers organized by the Oregon Coalition to Stop Wage Theft will start at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, February 10, in Room 50 of the state Capitol.
Wage theft occurs when employers pay workers less than the minimum wage, don’t pay time-and-a-half for overtime hours, cheat on the number of hours worked, steal tips or don’t pay workers at all. And it is a serious problem, according to the coalition.
In conjunction with the briefing, the Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP), a member of the coalition, released a new analysis of wage claims filed with BOLI. OCPP found that the bureau received 1,159 wage claims totaling $3.4 million in the one-year period from July 2010 to June 2011. The construction, information, and hotel and restaurant industries gave rise to the largest share of wage claims relative to the number of workers they employ.
“Only a fraction of the workers whose wages have been stolen are likely to file a claim with BOLI,” cautioned OCPP Policy Analyst Janet Bauer. “Many workers affected likely do not know they have recourse or may fear reprisal from their employer, especially at a time when jobs are scarce.”
Advocates fighting wage theft are not necessarily expecting action in the current legislative session, given its relatively short duration and packed agenda, according to Michael Dale. He’s Executive Director of the Northwest Workers’ Justice Project, which coordinates the Oregon Coalition to Stop Wage Theft.
“Wage theft is very common in parts of the economy, but this may surprise many who don’t have to deal with it themselves. We hope to focus attention on a serious and growing problem that hurts workers, honest employers and the taxpayer alike. The coalition will support legislation in the 2013 session that will clamp down on wage theft,” Dale said.
Among those who have joined the effort to end wage theft is the faith community, according to David Leslie, Executive Director of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon.
“Wage theft violates the Commandment that states, ‘Thou shalt not steal,’” Leslie said. “By holding accountable employers who knowingly fail to pay wages earned, we extend to all Oregon workers — especially those with little power — the equal protection of the laws and recognize their essential human dignity.”
The Oregon Coalition to Stop Wage Theft currently includes the Northwest Workers’ Justice Project (NWJP), PCUN, Rural Organizing Project (ROP), Oregon Center for Public Policy, VOZ Workers’ Rights Education Project, Oregon School Employees Association, Oregon AFL-CIO, SEIU Local 503, SEIU Local 49, CAUSA, Portland Jobs with Justice, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO), Oregon New Sanctuary Movement (ONSM), Oregon Thrives, Economic Fairness Oregon, Common Cause Oregon, American Friends Service Committee, Human Dignity Advocates of Crook County, and Centro LatinoAmericano.
The Oregon Center for Public Policy is a non-partisan research institute that does in-depth research and analysis on budget, tax and economic issues. The Center’s goal is to improve decision making and generate more opportunities for all Oregonians.