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Wage theft a growing concern in Cincinnati region

Wage theft a growing concern in Cincinnati region

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The Enquirer/Patrick Reddy

From the Cincinnati Enquirer:

by Fatima Hussein

Brennan Grayson and Manuel Perez represent the region's low-wage and undocumented workers, who are often taken advantage of by the region's largest employers.

The respective director and membership coordinator for the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center, located in the Peaslee Center in Over-the-Rhine, have fought to improve conditions for workers in a variety of roles for the organization.

Last February, Grayson and Perez, along with several volunteers at the workers center, helped pass a local ordinance that prevents city contractors from engaging in wage theft.

Under the measure, if the city or another agency determines a company has committed wage theft, city officials would be able to have the money returned and the company would be barred from doing business with the city.

"Cincinnati’s ordinance is a model for all Ohio cities and sends a message that economic development projects will protect the dignity of wage earners," Grayson said.

The pair spoke with The Enquirer about the issues low wage and undocumented workers face in the area:

Question: What is the biggest issue your clients or workers who come to youface?

Answer: We run a worker rights hotline, 513-621-5991. Most people are looking for help with getting paid for their work. When people work but don't get a legal wage for all their work, that's wage theft.  For example, in 2012 the U.S. Department of Labor recovered $212 million dollars in unpaid wages theft, nationwide, but only $139 million was taken nationwide through street, bank, convenience store robberies. It is the crime wave no one is talking about.

Q: Explain what wage theft is and whether it is happening more often or not? Who is particularly susceptible to falling victim to wage theft?

A: Wage theft is the illegal withholding of wages that are rightfully owed to an employee. This can take the form of being paid less than the minimum wage, being shorted hours, being forced to work off the clock, not being paid overtime, being misclassified as an independent contractor so that overtime requirements do not apply, or, as is often the case when an operation winds down or an employee is laid off: not being paid at all.

Q: What was the biggest case your organization took on this year?

A: In the spring, the workers' center collaborated with a local union to uncover massive wage theft in the development of the Princeton pool. This resulted in over $140,000 in recovered wages.  But for us, all the cases are important.  Even small claims are big to us. The janitor who is ripped off, not paid for cleaning the Immaculate Heart of Mary parish offices, or the ironworkers who (say they didn't) get paid for reinforcing ironwork at the new apartment complex in Clifton, or the framers who help refurbish the many row houses in Over-the-Rhine into high-end condos. Some of the most important breakthroughs come through these smaller cases.  The cases that loom the largest are those we haven't won yet, like (allegations of) the tens of thousand in unpaid wages for framing work at the luxury Hunt Road apartments in Blue Ash.  Developers want their name in lights when the build something, but want to run and hide when the workers on the project don't get paid.

Read more from the Cincinnati Enquirer

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