7/1/09 WDSU – Councilman Wants to Stop 'Wage Theft' From Workers
July 1, 2009
Councilman Wants to Stop ‘Wage Theft’ From Workers: No Recourse for Employees Stiffed Out of Payments
WDSU, New Orleans
Joaquin Romero and Julio Medrano go on many painting jobs around town, and they say that all too often, they don’t get paid fairly for their work.
“In a contract, they may off $16, $17 an hour, and at the end of the job … they only pay $10 an hour, $8 an hour,” Romero said.
Medrano estimates that he’s lost $15,000 to $16,000 this way.
It’s the reason the workers said they support City Councilman Arnie Fielkow’s push to toughen the punishment for employers who short-change their crews.
The councilman is considering drafting an ordinance that would criminalize what some call “wage theft” — even if the person reporting it is an illegal immigrant.
Fielkow’s proposal could even land the employer in jail.
“We need a new law to protect workers,” Fielkow said.
A lawyer with the Center for Workers at Loyola University said there is no redress under federal criminal statue for wage theft. As far as local and state police, the lawyer said they don’t use the statues in place to protect workers.
Local labor unions said such a law would benefit not only workers, but also honest employers who have to compete with companies improperly cutting corners.
“The only thing that they can cut and drop down is the labor, and that’s what they’re doing,” said Herbert Santos, a board member for the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO. “And the good old boy system in the city, you know everybody looks the wrong way and nobody wants to get involved.”