Maryland Construction Worker Testifies in Support of Labor Law Change to Prevent Wage Theft

US House lawmakers are considering a bill that would expand the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to include protections for workers against wage theft. Photo by bradcalkins.

U.S. House lawmakers questioned several labor experts on Wednesday before a House panel on education and labor about how a new bill to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 would protect workers against wage theft.

A Maryland construction worker who had not received a fair daily wage for a long period was among those who testified in favor of the measure.

House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced the bill, HR 3712, known as the “Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act of 2022”. It would require employers to provide pay stubs to workers, establish new minimum and maximum civil penalties for employers who engage in wage theft, and provide grants to organizations and institutions to strengthen enforcement of wage and salary laws. the schedules.

“It is unacceptable that dishonest employers can steal workers’ wages with little or no consequences,” said House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.). “This bill would take essential steps to help workers receive the full pay they have earned for all hours worked, including overtime pay, and level the playing field for law-abiding employers. »

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, sponsored the bill on the Senate side.

Republicans on the Labor Protections subcommittee said the legislation would hurt small business owners and criticized Democrats for calling employers “thieves” — although no Democrats on the subcommittee didn’t.

“To call our nation’s job creators thieves is beyond outrageous,” said Rep. Fred Keller of Pennsylvania, the most Republican on the panel. “It would be more predictive to provide compliance assistance, rather than assuming employers are bad actors.”

Rep. Alma Adams (DN.C.), chair of the subcommittee, said low-income workers are more likely to experience wage theft, which includes minimum wage, overtime, off-peak hours, tips and meal breaks. . Adams asked one of the witnesses, Karen Cacace, labor bureau chief for the New York State Attorney General’s office, what impact the wage theft might have had on these low-income workers.

“Workers on low incomes typically live paycheck to paycheck,” Cacace said. “They don’t have any savings in the bank if their employer doesn’t pay them their due salary for the last week.”

Another witness, Daniel Swenson-Klatt, owner of a bakery in Minneapolis, said that as a small business owner, he did not believe that passing a bill requiring owners of company to provide a pay stub to their employees was binding, as many Republicans on the committee raised concerns about it.

“I don’t think it’s ridiculous to go after bad actors,” Swenson-Klatt said of fining employers convicted of wage theft.

Cacace added that requiring employers to issue pay stubs to their employees “is the bare minimum.”

“Pay your workers the right amount and no one will bankrupt your business,” she said.

Keller asked Tammy McCutchen, a senior affiliate of Resolution Economics in Washington, DC, if she thought DeLauro’s bill would be a burden on small businesses.

McCutchen said the increased civil penalties would hurt small businesses if they make a mistake, which could put those businesses out of business.

“Good employers make mistakes because compliance is hard,” she said.

Rep. Donald Norcross (DN.J.) said he had never heard of an “honest mistake” causing a small business to go bankrupt and said the bill was intended to prosecute the employers deliberately engaging in wage theft.

“The ones we’re talking about today are intentional,” he said, “and hurt real people.”

Norcross interviewed Francisco Esparza, the Maryland construction worker from Upper Marlboro, about his experience with an employer who participated in wage theft.

Esparza said he would work seven days a week and receive no overtime, and for weeks his paycheck was made out as a personal check rather than a pay stub.

“It’s not an accident by any stretch of the imagination,” Norcross said after hearing Esparza’s story.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said in her own state, contractors have suffered a kind of wage theft. Last weekAbout 40 workers who worked on the Vikings Lake development — owned by the family that owns the NFL team Minnesota Vikings — have claimed to have suffered wage theft estimated at $100,000.

“It is clear that more DOL (Department of Labor) funding and additional federal reforms are needed in our communities to protect our most vulnerable workers,” she said.

Alice F. Ponder