At 2:00pm, Wednesday, February 15, Lt. Governor Tina Smith, Labor Commissioner Ken Peterson, state legislators, and the Minnesota Wage Theft Coalition will hold a rally at the State Capitol in support of the Minnesota Wage Theft Prevention Act. Workers from a variety of industries will talk about their experiences with wage theft.
Governor Dayton, Lt. Governor Smith and others have proposed a series of reforms to ensure Minnesotans are paid for their hard work. The new legislation, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Joe Champion and Rep. Tim Mahoney, would Invest $1 million in the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) to investigate and crack down on wage theft, and give DLI investigators the power to subpoena documents. Other provisions include: defining the law and making it clear wage theft is wrong and illegal, and increasing the fines for willful and repeated violations of wage theft laws from $1,000 to $10,000 per violation. Employers would also be required to pay employees every 16 days, rather than every 31, and provide information about wages and the company address and contacts to employees at the start of employment.
There are already laws against wage theft and there is enforcement in place. Just not enough say advocates. According to a statement released by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, in 2016, "over 39,000 Minnesotans were victims of wage theft. Those 39,000 hard-working people were denied $11.9 million in wages they worked hard for, but were never paid. The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) has worked hard to recover $4.8 million in back wages for Minnesota workers over the last five years, but they have only five employees to handle over 20,000 complaints related to wage and hour laws every year."
In addition to state enforcement efforts, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha /Center for Workers United in Struggle (CTUL) has also organized around the issue and supported workers in winning millions in back pay. CTUL and other members of the Minnesota Wage Theft Coalition note that the crisis continues to grow and better remedies, community education and prevention efforts are needed. Most working people do not know how to seek help when they experience wage theft. Workers are usually on their own to identify, pursue and report a wage theft violation even if their employer routinely commits violations.
The Minnesota Wage Theft Coalition formed in the spring of 2016 and includes a variety of community, labor, government, university and worker center organizations throughout the state who are cooperating to focus public attention on this issue. Research and reporting by Workday Minnesota as well as community and labor organizations has shown that wage theft is a largely hidden crisis that harms workers and their families, high-road businesses and communities throughout Minnesota.
Wage theft takes many forms. Employers refuse to pay their employees for work performed, make unlawful paycheck deductions or coerce employees to work off the clock. Employers violate minimum wage, prevailing wage, and overtime protections or misclassify employees as an independent contractors to avoid paying workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance. Wage theft affects people in many industries including office workers, janitors, construction workers, service sector employees and online workers.
The accompanying images are a collection of story memes called Faces of Wage Theft that were created by the Coalition to highlight the crisis. Each image is based on a Minnesota worker who has experienced wage theft. Stories have the power to lift the issue of wage theft from the shadows and promote an important public dialog.