Fighting for Stronger Laws against Wage Theft
By: Emily Herne
April 27, 2017
Organizers from the Greater Minnesota Worker Center, Gladys Gutierrez, Taunita Jones, and intern Emily Herne along with worker Yonina Phipps attended and participated in a wage theft panel moderated by Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith Wednesday, April 26th 2017 .
This panel, hosted by the Minnesota Labor Education Service at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, gathered five workers in a variety of industries that engaged the audience with their stories of wage theft and the frequency at which it occurs. These panelists were also joined by organizers from GMWC and CTUL and Minnesota House Representative Tim Mahoney and Senator Dan Schoen. These legislators are authors of HF 1391 and SF 1329, the bill proposed to prevent wage theft.
Gutierrez mentioned the specific strategies that employers are taking to intentionally decrease the time workers can be clocked in. This includes the five minutes that poultry workers are unable to clock in until all of their gear is on. The extra 10-15 minutes a day that these workers are not being paid for adds up to nearly an hour a week. For many workers on the panel and in the audience, the seemingly small amount of work that is not being compensated affected their livelihood.
Phipps documented a story from the 2016-17 New Year’s Eve where she was requested to work for time and a half, leaving her seven children at home. When she did not receive her pay for this night in the next check, the hoops she had to jump were complex and ongoing. As a single mother that deals with mental illness, this extra work to get compensation that she was promised is unacceptable. Two months later she finally received a check with the pay for the night, but not time and a half, which is the only reason she sacrificed time with her family that holiday.
Representative Tim Mahoney addressed the proposed legislation that is aiming to protect workers from wage theft. The changes include enforcing an immediate citation to employers for instances of wage theft under $1000 instead of processing it through court. The legislators are asking for $1 million to the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry to hire 5 new investigators. If this bill passes it will also change wage theft from a petty misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor that allows for a harsher punishment and the possibility of incarceration.
Although the research is out there exposing wage theft as a common and serious issue, the enforcement of penalizing wage theft has been limited. If this legislation is put through the Minnesota House and Senate, it would be a great step towards fair working practices for employees.
An article from Workday Minnesota features a picture of GMWC affiliate worker Phipps with Lieutenant governor Tina Smith and mentions Gutierrez speaking on the panel at :