Wage theft, or the illegal underpayment of workers, affects millions of workers across the country and is nearly ubiquitous in certain industries: retail, restaurants, hospitality, day-labor, warehousing, child care, and construction. According to a 2008 survey by National Employment Law Project and the Center for Urban Development titled “Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers: Violations of Employment and Labor Laws in America’s Cities found that:
- 68% of low-wage workers experience wage theft each week
- 26% are paid under the legal minimum wage
- 76% of workers who are owed overtime go unpaid or underpaid for those hours
- On average, low-wage workers lose 15% of their income each year to wage theft – $51 per week, or $2,634 per year
Since 2000, Voz Workers Rights Education project has been a tireless advocate for day laborers in ending the practice of Wage theft. Through Voz’s legal wage claim team, we’ve been able to recover over $350,000 in stolen wages.
Voz’s model to combat wage theft includes:
- Direct Action
- Legal wage claim service
Voz offers “Know-Your-Rights-Trainings” every week for day in the street corners with our volunteer legal team. This has also been used as an organizing tool to build trust in the Worker Center model for organizing and improving day laborer conditions.
Voz in partnership with Portland Solidarity Network offers a direct action team to reclaim wages for day laborers and other workers. Most direct actions start with the collection of information and the consent of the worker. The following step includes a conversation with the party/owner to resolve the dispute. When a dispute goes unresolved Voz and Portland Solidarity Network escalate their tactics that may include:
- Neighborhood leafleting nearby a business
- Protest outside of business
- Protest outside of business with media
Legal Wage Claim Service
Currently the wage theft program consists of law student volunteers from Lewis & Clark Law School, supervised by pro bono attorneys. They are responsible for client intake for day laborers with wage theft claims. This component of Voz’s wage theft program has been key in continuing the process of making sure that day laborers have legal means for their grievances.
Combating wage theft will require more than educating the most vulnerable through Know-your-rights trainings and offering organizing and legal tactics, but will require true systemic change. Voz has partnered with allies, as part of the Stop Wage Theft Campaign! to make systemic changes by improve state laws through the Oregon State Legislature
In 2013, Voz and allies passed HB 2977, that brought more accountability to contractors and sub-contractors under the Bureau of Labor and Industries.