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City Ordinance Cracks Down On Wage Theft

By Bradford Betz for KPFK

Low-wage workers outside L.A. City Hall gather with local lawmakers and advocates in support of a crackdown on so-called ‘wage theft.’

According to researchers at UCLA, every week, low-wage workers in Los Angeles lose over $26 million of their income to wage theft. The theft can happen in a variety of ways, but often it’s as simple as workers not being paid for hours that they work, or for overtime.


And, compared to other cities in the United States, L.A. ranks at the bottom. The problem is so bad that advocates have nicknamed the city ‘the wage theft capital of the U.S.’

Workers most vulnerable to wage theft work in the service sector. According to L.A. city council member Paul Koretz, nearly 80% of low-wage workers in the city have experienced wage theft.

The L.A. Coalition Against Wage Theft is a collaboration between worker centers and unions. Earlier today they took to City Hall to address the problem.

Marissa Nuncio, director of the Garment Worker Center, says wage theft is a crime.

Marissa: “This theft of service, this is theft of labor. It has to be treated as such. You know workers right now are waiting, sometimes up to years.”

Council members Gil Cedillo and Paul Koretz are leading the city to enact an ordinance to make it a misdemeanor for employers to withhold wages from employees.

Koretz: “You steal from a store, you go to jail. But employers who cheat their workers out of their hard earned wages usually get away with it. These bad apples know they can get away with it because the state’s bureaucracy is too slow to root them out.”

City Councilmembers Richard Alarcon and Paul Koretz originally introduced the ordinance in 2009. But advocates say a poor relationship between the city council and the city attorney’s office at the time prevented the ordinance from being drafting. Current City Attorney Mike Feuer campaigned on a promise to make combating wage theft a priority.

Council member Gil Cedillo says that an ordinance is necessary to halt an increase in the divide between classes.

Cedillo: “We must understand this. There’s a very clear divide between wealth and poverty that is characteristic of this economic recovery. So we’re here today to try to prevent a further divide.”

Supporters of a crackdown on wage theft say that the effort will also improve the local economy. With less income, workers have no way of supporting local businesses. And employers who pay their workers a fair wage struggle to compete with businesses who don’t.

Following unanimous support of the motion today, a draft ordinance is making its way through the City Attorney’s office. A decision is expected within two weeks.