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LA City Council wants to regulate wage theft

By Alice Walton for KPCC 

Two Los Angeles city councilmen want employers to face criminal penalties when they withhold wages owed to their employees. Councilmen Paul Koretz and Gil Cedillo introduced a motion Tuesday that asks the City Attorney's Office and the LAPD to work with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and UCLA Downtown Labor Center to craft a city law against "wage theft." Organizers describe"wage theft" as  violating minimum wage and overtime laws and forcing employees to work off the clock. 

"It is urgent that the city of Los Angeles do something about this very debilitating and devastating problem that afflicts so many hard-working people," Koretz said at a news conference outside City Hall. 

The councilmen's motion asks the City Attorney's Office to criminalize the practice, though there were no details available on whether employers would be punished with fines or jail time.

It was not immediately known which Los Angeles City Council committee would discuss the issue, nor was a timeline given for drafting the city law. A similar motion was introduced by Koretz and then-Councilman Richard Alarcon in 2009, though ultimately no action was taken. 

A representative for the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce said the organization would need to know more details about the proposal before taking a position. 

"We are all against theft and we certainly believe that workers should be paid for the hours they work," said Ruben Gonzalez, senior vice president of Public Policy and Political Affairs.

"However, as with any conceptual proposal, the details matter. We need to see what enforcement will look like, what criteria and standards will be used for punishment, and what unintended consequences we may see such as increasing already heavy court backlog and costs," Gonzalez said.