Strategies to End Wage Theft

 

TUWDC employs a variety of tools to address the rampant problem of wage theft that affects workers throughout the District of Columbia. Wage theft occurs when workers do not get paid for work performed or are laid off without being paid their salary. Through community organizing and popular education workshops, TUWDC aims to combat employers who owe back wages or do not pay the minimum wage and overtime required by law. TUWDC works daily with workers who are owed back wages. TUWDC helps workers file incident reports which can serve as the basis for a wage theft claim. If a worker has enough information about the contractor or employer, TUWDC urges the worker to file a claim at the Office of Wage-Hour. But government enforcement is rarely successful. The Office of Wage-Hour handles very few investigations, dismisses cases without notifying the worker, and does not conduct timely investigations. Often workers do not have sufficient documentation to win their case. TUWDC also combats wage theft by organizing direct action and litigation to help workers recover unpaid wages. Worker leaders often engage in a series of escalating pressure tactics to recover wages.

 

Our Strategies to End Wage Theft:

Organizing Workers: TUWDC works daily with workers who are owed back wages. TUWDC helps workers file incident reports which can serve as the basis for a wage theft claim. If a worker has enough information about the contractor or employer, TUWDC urges the worker to file a claim at the Office of Wage-Hour. But government enforcement is rarely successful. The Office of Wage-Hour handles very few investigations, dismisses cases without notifying the worker, and does not conduct timely investigations. Often workers do not have sufficient documentation to win their case. TUWDC also combats wage theft by organizing direct action and litigation to help workers recover unpaid wages. Worker leaders often engage in a series of escalating pressure tactics to recover wages.
Police Protocol to combat wage theft: Another strategy has been to involve the DC Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). Workers observed that several policeman assisted workers in documenting their wage theft cases. But this was not a normal process, rather it was an individual policeman or policewoman who took the initiative trying to help the worker recover back wages. In 2012 DC immigrant day laborers met with MPD officers to express their need. After weeks of negotiations, DC’s day laborers signed an historic agreement with the MPD and the Department of Employment Services (DOES) to investigate and document wage theft cases. This agreement defines the role of the police in supplementing existing institutions by creating a standard protocol and training for officers when responding to wage theft claims. MPD trained its officers to inform them about the best practices when dealing with wage theft disagreements.
Informal and direct conversations and letters: TUWDC also sends letters to contractors urging them to pay their workers when there is a wage theft complaint. Oftentimes, TUWDC will ask the contractor to meet with the workers to try and resolve issues of back pay. Many other types of violations occur, including the failure of some employers to apply workers’ compensation laws. TUWDC has served as an intermediary for many of these low-wage workers, many of whom work as construction laborers, hotel housekeepers, restaurant workers, and cleaning staff. TUWDC has been able to refer some workers to lawyers, but only when there is sufficient information about a violation of labor law or the amount owed is significant.
Formal procedures and Enforceable Judgements: In 2014 the DC City Council passed the Wage Theft Prevention Act that establishes formal procedures to enable victims of wage theft to recover unpaid wages and damages. It increases the penalties for those responsible for committing wage theft and provides greater protection for workers who stand up for their rights. It also makes it easier for wage theft victims to get legal representation.