August 29th, 2012
Cesar stocked shelves and unloaded deliveries at a grocery store in Washington County for almost a year. He kept daily written records of his work, showing that he typically worked six days a week for more than 12 hours a day. His employer paid him a weekly lump sum of cash, which worked out to an average of only $6.11 an hour. In fact, by the time he left the job, Cesar’s employer had stolen from him more than $13,000 in unpaid minimum wages and overtime.
Cesar is just one of thousands of Oregonians whose wages are being stolen every day. Wage theft happens when employers pay less than the minimum wage, don’t pay overtime, steal tips, require employees to work “off-the-clock” – or fail to pay at all.
In a recent five year period, over 8,000 wage claims were filed with Oregon’s state labor bureau, totaling $24.5 million.And this represents only a fraction of the actual incidents of wage theft – thousands more go unreported. In a national study, 2/3 of low-wage workers reported having been victims of wage theft in the last week!
This widespread problem often flies under the radar – but has a huge impact on the workers who don’t get paid, but also on other workers whose standards are undermined, honest employers who have to compete with scofflaws, communities robbed of local spending, and taxpayers who have to make up for the taxes that can’t be collected on unpaid wages. Who will stand up for our communities’ most vulnerable retail, construction & food service workers?
That’s why the Rural Organizing Project is part of the Oregon Coalition to Stop Wage Theft. Together with more than 20 other labor, faith, and community groups, we are working for stronger laws, better enforcement, and stronger communities to make it harder for employers to deny payment to workers and easier for workers to collect unpaid wages.
In the heat of the election season, let’s raise a ruckus about the real issues like wage theft that are affecting Oregonians, and get them on the radar for our neighbors and legislators.
Labor Day is a perfect opportunity to make your voice heard for workers’ rights. Adapt the following letter and send it to the Oregonian and to your local paper. Be sure to send it in a couple of days before Labor Day to make sure it gets in on time:
In today’s struggling economy, I don’t understand why Oregon workers are the first to suffer while banks and corporations continue to profit.
One example is wage theft, which is far more widespread than we would like to believe. From 2006 to 2011, over 8,000 wage theft claims were filed with the state labor bureau, totaling $24.5 million. And how many workers know how to file a claim with BOLI? How many thousands more workers must be victims of wage theft that goes unreported?
Let’s all take a moment this Labor Day to give extra thanks for the low-wage workers who put food on our tables, clean our hotels and offices, build our homes, and care for our children. Let’s also pledge to make sure these workers are paid at least what they are owed.
This Labor Day, I’m taking the Pledge to Stop Wage Theft. Please join me: www.nwjp.org
(You can change and edit this letter to make it more your own. Sharing a personal story will make it more compelling. Keep it short (150 words or less). If you’re short on time, just submit the letter as is. Make sure to include your home address and daytime phone number.)
Let us know once you have submitted the letter, and especially if it is printed on or around Labor Day. Thank you for joining many others statewide in support of lawful wages for all Oregon’s workers.
PS. Have you signed the Pledge to Stop Wage Theft? If not, here is your chance! http://nwjp.org/oregon-coalition-to-stop-wage-theft/pledge/
 Annette Bernhardt, Ruth Milkman, Nik Theodore et al., Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers: Violations of Employment and Labor Laws in America’s Cities, September 2009.