Sunday, May 27, 2012

Wage theft in the city of millionaires

Stace has blogged extensively about this previously; here's The Nation picking it up now.

For two years running Houston has added more millionaires to its population than any other city in the United States. Near-millionaires are enjoying some nice upward mobility, especially those involved in the oil and gas industry.

Low-wage workers, on the other hand, aren’t faring too well in the city. In fact, a recent report from Houston Interfaith Worker Justice (HIWJ) estimates that low-wage workers lose $753.2 million annually due to wage theft. Wage theft can occur in many ways, including: workers being denied the minimum wage or overtime pay; stolen tips; illegal deductions from paychecks; people being forced to work off the clock; or workers getting misclassified as independent contractors so they aren’t entitled to overtime or benefits.

“We’re not talking about a worker here or a worker there, it’s something that has a lot of ripple effects,” says José Eduardo Sanchez, campaign organizer with HIWJ. “It impacts families, communities and local economies.”

Although there are laws on the books against wage theft, there are problems with understaffing, enforcement, and jurisdiction disputes in institutions like the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, the Texas Workforce Commission, and the courts.

When companies don't pay their workers, that's stealing. Unless the companies are going out of business, it's criminal and should be prosecuted.

Mayor Annise Parker has expressed some empathy for the plight of the victims even as she has clarified that it is the state of Texas which has jurisdiction to address the issue.

The city’s Legal Department initially analyzed the proposal and said that wage theft is addressed by state statute. But Mayor Annise Parker’s office contacted HIWJ to express her interest. HIWJ is now working with her administration on policy proposals that would create a process for a fair hearing and link wage theft violations to the suspension and revocation of city licenses, permits and contracts. Other options to collect additional damages from employers are being explored as well.

Sanchez says the mayor’s action was “surprising” given the initial response from the city.
“But now it’s a matter of holding the politicians accountable and really pushing for enforceable aspects of this legislation,” says Sanchez. “Because there’s an easy way for this to become one of those good policies on paper—nice sentiment, nice words—but not enforceable.”

A little late for some of you, but something to consider if you're casting your ballot on Tuesday.

-- Who cares more about the companies and their owners and managers who steal from their employees than they do about the victims of wage theft?

-- Who cares about the real victims of wage theft: the families? The single parent households and the children who go to bed hungry every night? That conservative crap about "they shouldn't have had children if they couldn't afford them" no longer washes because the Republicans in Austin, as we know, are now cutting off funding for birth control, along with women's wellness exams and cancer screenings.

There's some statistics at the Nation link at the top for the United States if you scroll down a ways. Here's a few.

US poverty (less than $22,314 for a family of four): 46 million people, 15.1 percent of population.

Children in poverty: 16.4 million, 22 percent of all children, including 40 percent of African-American children and 37 percent of Latino children.

Number of poor children receiving cash aid: one in five.

Poverty rate for people in female-headed families: 42 percent.

Poverty rate for children under age 5 in female-headed families: 59 percent.

Single mothers with incomes under $25,000: 50 percent.

Single mothers working: 67 percent.

 But here's the one that really jumped out at me:

Americans with no income other than food stamps: 6 million, 2 percent of population.

You know for certain which side the Republicans are on, and it won't ever be the working poor. But what about the Democrats? Some of them are for "free markets, entrepreneurship, and liberalized trade", which should be an easy enough dog whistle to decipher. Or just look at their record, as contrasted with their challenger's.

This isn't brain surgery, folks. You can vote for a 100% plutocracy party, or one that's roughly 50%. (You can also vote for neither one.) As always -- and as my friend Neil likes to say frequently -- it's up to you.

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