Tens of thousands of times a week, according to one study, employers steal money from low-wage workers in Philadelphia. They fail to compensate them for overtime, pay them less than the minimum wage, undercount their hours, withhold their tips, or don't pay them at all.
A Temple University study estimated that there are about 90,000 incidents of wage theft in the city every week, costing victims $51 to $87. That's less money for rent, food, and other necessities and enough to do real harm to a low-income worker.
Even more such problems are likely to occur as employers adjust to a new U.S. Department of Labor rule guaranteeing workers who earn no more than $50,440 a year time-and-a-half pay when they work more than 40 hours a week.
To help ensure that workers are paid what they earn, City Councilman William Greenlee is sponsoring a bill to create a wage-theft watchdog in the Managing Director's Office. The wage-theft coordinator would respond to worker complaints as well as seek out victims who don't complain because they don't know their rights or fear retribution.
The U.S. Labor Department and the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office already pursue wage-theft cases, but supporters of Greenlee's bill say the city can do more. The wage-theft coordinator would investigate and adjudicate smaller thefts, ranging from $100 to $10,000, and would hunt down more abuses, particularly in vulnerable immigrant populations.
The Economic Policy Institute reports that about $1 billion a year is recovered on behalf of wage-theft victims nationally and that the figure indicates a much deeper problem. Even though it is against the law to steal wages, the penalties, such as fines ranging from $75 to $300, are minimal.
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