Houston, We Have A Wage Theft Problem!

The good folks with the Down With Wage Theft campaign released a report on the impact wage theft has on the community (PDF), and let me tell you, it’s worse than one would generally think. Wage theft has affected the worker and workers’ families in the millions of dollars, but it has also affected the entire Houston economy. As strong as one might feel the local economy has remained despite the recession (or as strong as Forbes thinks the job outlook is), it seems to me it could have been a lot better. Especially for ordinary working people if  they had been protected from those who prey on them.

Here are some of the highlights:

Wage Theft is a Community Problem:

  • Wage theft becomes a problem to the community as a whole because of: (1) the sheer prevalence and pervasiveness of wage theft; and (2) the individuals’ connection to the broader community undoubtedly has collateral effects on their families, the public, the taxpayer, the local economy and even other businesses.
  • An estimated $753.2 million dollars are lost every year due to wage theft among low-wage workers. The consequences of this loss further depress working family incomes, resulting in decreased community investment and spending and limited economic growth.
  • Over 100 wage and hour violations occur in Houston every single week, a conservative figure that still demonstrates the pervasiveness of wage theft in the city. Although it is prevalent in the Houston construction and restaurant industries, it affects all types of industries, especially low-wage work.

The System Charged with Wage Enforcement is Failing:

  • Across the board, agencies and institutions – including the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, the Texas Workforce Commission, the Courts, and community organizations – face many limitations, including understaffing, financial barriers (for both institutions and workers), and lack of enforcement and jurisdiction.
  • As a result, many workers are left unprotected, either through exclusions from the law or financial barriers to reporting and pursuing wage theft cases.
  • Weak employer enforcement and near non-existent consequences for violations make wage theft recovery increasingly difficult and also fail to deter future wage theft occurrences.

Houston has Many Opportunities to Bring Down Wage Theft through Community & Policy Action

  • Throughout the nation, communities have been resisting wage theft by implementing creative community actions and successfully pushing comprehensive policy solutions at the local and state levels.
  • Houston can capitalize on successful models nationwide, as well as on its own local innovation, to create better wage theft prevention and recovery mechanisms based on the needs of the region’s industries and workers.
  • The city can take action by facilitating wage claims and resolutions through an administrative hearing process, increase employer consequences to improve wage theft recovery and prevention, and strengthen worker protections against retaliation for reporting wage claims within the city.

That last one is very important and is something our City Council should take action on ASAP. The City has an opportunity to set a high standard and show its commitment to working people by taking such an action.

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