Economic status and dating
By far the most galvanizing and most widely reported legislative battle of the past two years was Wisconsin Gov.Scott Walker’s “budget repair bill” that, in early 2011, largely eliminated collective bargaining rights for the state’s 175,000 public employees.1 Following this, in 20: The champions of anti-union legislation often portrayed themselves as the defenders of non-union workers—whom they characterized as hard-working private-sector taxpayers being forced to pick up the tab for public employees’ lavish pay and pensions.A majority of states have reduced the number of staff dedicated to enforcement of wage and hour laws over the past five years.169 In some states, this has been a consequence of broader budget cuts, while in others, enforcement of workplace laws has been singled out for defunding.Ohio’s General Assembly, for instance, voted to completely eliminate funding for labor inspectors in 2011, leaving no staff to enforce state minimum-wage, overtime, child labor, or prevailing wage laws.Two years later, however, it is clear that the attack on public employee unions has been part of a broader agenda aiming to cut wages and benefits and erode working conditions and legal protections for all workers—whether union or non-union, in the public and private sectors alike.This push to erode labor standards, undercut wages, and undermine unions has been advanced by policymakers pursuing a misguided economic agenda working in tandem with the major corporate lobbies.Enforcement of wage and hour laws has long been strikingly lax.When the federal minimum-wage law was first established in 1941, there was one federal workplace inspector for every 11,000 workers.
Almost immediately following the adoption of the Miami-Dade ordinance, however, business lobbies began pushing legislators to overturn the ordinance and ban other localities from adopting similar laws.
In the past two years, these efforts were most highly visible in Florida.
A recent study from Florida International University estimates that –90 million per year is stolen out of Florida workers’ paychecks.177 Yet since Florida’s legislature abolished the state’s Department of Labor in 2002, there are no state enforcement personnel to combat this problem.178 Further, the state attorney general has failed to bring a single case of wage theft in recent years.
Yet in that same year, the Ohio House adopted a budget that would cut the workplace enforcement budget by 25 percent over the next two years.170 Missouri House Speaker Steven Tilley likewise called for the complete elimination of funding for the state’s nine labor investigators.171 In 2010, Missouri’s labor department collected 0,000 in restitution for minimum-wage violations and 0,000 for prevailing-wage violations, and issued 1,714 citations for child-labor violations.172 Yet Tilley charged that investigators were being “overzealous,” particularly in prosecuting complaints of employers cheating on prevailing wages.173 Ultimately, Tilley compromised with the state’s Democratic governor, and the adopted budget eliminated only two of the Division of Labor Standards’ nine investigators rather than the entire staff.174 In either case, meager enforcement staff means there is little meaningful protection for employees’ rights under law. Department of Labor investigation found that one-third of employers who had previously violated wage and hour laws continued to do so.175 The Progressive States Network—a national organization of state legislators—has identified the key elements of effective policy for combating wage theft.
Indeed, because the enforcement mechanisms are so weak and the penalties for stealing wages are generally so modest, even employers who have been found guilty and forced to pay penalties for wage theft are often undeterred from continuing these practices. These include requirements that employers keep detailed pay records and allow employees to receive a thorough explanation of how each paycheck was calculated; the right of state authorities to inspect employers’ records; workers’ private right of action to sue for unpaid wages as individuals or in class actions; protection of complainants against retaliation by their employers; and the provision of attorney fees, damages, and penalties as part of the enforcement process.176 Yet corporate lobbies have been working hard to prohibit enforcement mechanisms such as these.