On March 29, 2013, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez vetoed a bill passed by both the House and Senate increasing the minimum wage to $8.50. That was Good Friday – obviously Gov. Martinez wanted to do veto our raise on a day when very few were paying attention.
New Mexico’s low-wage workers, who number about 84,000, are getting restless. As the video shows, several workers with the group OLE New Mexico tried to contact Gov. Martinez to ask what her reasoning was behind the veto, but were blocked at every turn. Not a single staff member could give justification for this action, and most frequently got an answering machine or were asked to submit a request through the website.
Gov. Martinez lack of transparency on an issue that affects so many New Mexicans is disturbing. As the only person standing between 84,000 workers and their raise, she owes the state a better explanation of her actions.
My employer may have shorted my pay over the past three years by more than $9,400—yet I am told the only way I can recover the money is through a civil lawsuit. I live in Ohio, but the company is in Georgia, so I have to file the lawsuit in Georgia. Any suggestions or alternatives you can offer?
— Coming up short, Ohio
When somebody gets their wallet stolen on the street, or jewelry and electronics stolen from their home, everyone gets that it’s a crime. But what if someone steals from your paycheck? It’s called “wage theft,” and it’s a growing problem for many workers.
A civil lawsuit is an option to recover unpaid wages—but it’s not the only option. Federal wage and hour laws apply to nearly all employers in the United States. Additionally, states may put in place and enforce higher wage and hour standards and stronger protections for workers in their state. Therefore, victims of wage theft—or any other wage and hour violation—should explore both state and federal remedies that might be available.
The Department of Labor has a Wage and Hour Division, which accepts and investigates complaintsabout wage theft. Wage and hour enforcement was a priority of the previous secretary of labor, Hilda Solis, and organizations that work against wage theft are encouraged by Thomas Perez, the nominee for the next secretary of labor. Additionally, several states have administrative agencies that investigate and prosecute wage and hour violations—California even has officers who investigate wage and hour violations for possible criminal prosecution.
In many cases a legal approach or lawsuit can address specific wage theft violations. But there’s another important element here—strength in numbers. Workers who are organized in unions have the protection of the law AND a collective bargaining agreement that makes sure they’re paid fairly and that there’s a remedy available when they’re not.
This is an issue that affects a lot of people, and organizations like Interfaith Worker Justice are active in raising awareness and helping people affected by wage theft.
Going to court is an option in an individual case, but we can’t just rely on lawsuits to fix the larger problem of wage theft. In our workplaces and in our communities, we need to come together to make sure companies are doing the right thing and paying their workers what they’re owed. Theft is theft, and we need tougher laws to deal with it.
“Washington has a spending problem.” “We need to stop the spending.” House Republicans since they assumed power in January 2011 have continuously touted the vague, amorphous issue of “spending” as paramount.
Last year, CBS News calculated that the number of hours spent on 33 repeal votes — then roughly 80 hours, or two full work weeks — cost taxpayers an estimated $48 million. Since then, Republicans have held three more votes (another $4.5 million) and will add another $1.5 million with their latest.
While Congress wastes taxpayer dollars on problems that only exist in their fevered imaginations, the rest of us are struggling with high unemployment, stagnant wages, crumbling infrastructure, and needless cuts to everything from Head Start to cancer research. Those are things that are actually happening, and they actually affect the lives of real Americans.
Either Speaker Boehner, Leader Cantor, and the rest of the gang actually focus on those problems instead of wasting taxpayer money on fake problems, or they stop with this constant faux concern about “spending.” They don’t get to do both.
Journalists are fixated on union members’ donations to the Los Angeles mayoral race to elect Wendy Greuel, Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, writes in a Los Angeles Times column. But one issue is being largely ignored: the working poor.
“But if the discussion about the role of unions in the campaign is going to focus almost exclusively on money, shouldn’t we talk about money in its entirety?” writes Durazo. “What motivates me and so many others in L.A. labor when it comes to money are the hundreds of thousands of our fellow workers in Los Angeles who don’t earn enough of it.”
Los Angeles is the low-wage capital of the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau‘s American Community Survey. L.A. has more workers who struggle to survive on poverty pay than any other metropolitan area in the country.
During 2011, the most recent year for which data are available, 822,244 people working at full-time, year-round jobs earned less than $25,000 a year. That represented 28% of the labor force. These figures are for Los Angeles County.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), its corporate backers and extremist Missouri lawmakers may have won the first round in their drive to silence working people with a paycheck deception bill, when the House gave it final approval (86-69) earlier this week.
But thanks to a strong mobilization by Missouri working families and their unions and allies, the close vote—that included several Republicans who voted against the bill—means that Gov. Jay Nixon’s (D) expected veto cannot be overridden. It takes a two-thirds majority vote to override.
Paycheck deception laws, like the one proposed in Missouri, create burdensome restrictions that interfere with union members’ rights to participate in the political and legislative process. These laws also weaken the ability of working people to advance working-family issues such as legislation that would create jobs and stop job outsourcing.
After the bill’s passage, Mike Louis, secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO, told reporters:
This bill is all politics. Not one Missouri worker testified in favor of S.B. 29, and that’s because this bill has nothing to do with helping working people. Public workers in this state have faced an uphill fight for collective bargaining rights and are 50 in the nation in pay.
In fact, dozens of Show-Me State workers created a Tumblr blog, Working Voices, and recorded video messages speaking out against paycheck deception. Union, community and faith activists were a major presence at the state Capitol in Jefferson City during hearings and votes and helped shine a spotlight on the anti-workers’ legislation through actions in several cities and towns.
Bradley Harmon, the president of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 6355, said:
This law is about protecting right-wing extremists and their corporate buddies, not about protecting anyone’s paycheck. That’s why we call it ‘paycheck deception.’