Low-wage workers focus on enforcement “best practices,” including high-tech tools to enforce rising wage laws for all workers, regardless of immigration status

CONTACT: Bradley Cleveland, SMC Union Community Alliance, 650.260.3151

WHERE: Street Level Health Project, 3125 East 15th St, Oakland, CA 94601

A coalition of organizations, many of which led campaigns to raise the minimum wage in Bay Area cities, are stepping up their efforts to enforce local wage laws and to fight “wage theft” that robs workers of the pay they have earned. With the nomination of a fast food executive to lead the U.S. Department of Labor, low-wage workers will depend on local and state agencies to enforce wage laws.

At the January 5th press conference, advocates and low-wage workers will emphasize that all workers, whether or not they are legally authorized to work in the United States must be paid the minimum wage. Local and state enforcement agencies will investigate wage claims without regard to a worker’s immigration status.

On January 1st, minimum wage workers across the Bay Area saw pay increases of 20% or more, when the wage floor in a dozen cities rose to at least $12 an hour. The state minimum wage only rose 5%, from $10 to $10.50 an hour, and only increased for employers with 26 employees or more

However, workers often do not see these increases due to the persistent problem of wage theft. Wage theft occurs when employers underpay their workers, deny them legally required breaks, fail to pay overtime, force employees to work “off the clock,” misclassify employees as independent contractors, fail to make required tax and insurance contributions, among other illegal practices. Wage theft is most common in labor intensive industries that pay by the hour—the restaurant industry, construction, and janitorial services—and most prevalent among immigrant workers.

The U.S. Department of Labor has played a key role battling wage theft nationally. In 2016, its Wage and Hour Division investigated 5,000 cases in the Food Services Industry, recovering almost $40 million in back wages for 44,700 affected employees. In the Construction Industry, the Division investigated over 3,200 cases, winning $41.7 million for almost 27,000 workers.

With a new administration in Washington D.C. that seems less interested in enforcing workers’ rights, local and state enforcement efforts are critical. Low-wage workers and advocates from Alameda, Santa Clara, and San Mateo counties will discuss their experience with wage theft and share best practices to ensure employees are fully paid for their work. These best practices include local wage theft ordinances, local-state cooperation, and community-based outreach and education.

Wage Theft Press Advisory (PDF)

Participating Organizations

Founded in 1969, Centro Legal de la Raza is a comprehensive legal services agency protecting and advancing the rights of immigrant, low-income, and Latino communities through bilingual legal representation, education, and advocacy. By combining quality legal services with know-your-rights education and youth development, Centro Legal promotes access to justice for thousands of individuals and families each year throughout Northern and Central California.

Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto provides transformative legal services that enable diverse communities in East Palo Alto and beyond to achieve a secure and thriving future. Our practice areas include immigration, housing, and economic advancement. Scott Hochberg wrote and CLSEPA published the study, “Raising the Minimum Wage and Fighting Wage Theft for a Healthier San Mateo County,” (June 2016).

Fight for $15 began as a movement of fast food workers in New York City organizing for $15 an hour and union rights. The movement has grown to over 300 cities worldwide, and now represents fast-food workers, home health aides, child care teachers, airport workers, adjunct professors, and retail.

Restaurant Opportunities Center Bay Area (ROC the Bay) represents one of the largest and fastest growing private sector employers in our economy. ROC the Bay is one of 10 local chapters of the national worker center and advocacy organization ROC United. ROC the Bay organizes workers, employers and consumers to advance improved working conditions in the restaurant industry. They provide hospitality job trainings, know your rights workshops and partner with employers on issues of wages, working conditions and racial equity.

The Santa Clara County Wage Theft Coalition seeks to raise awareness about the problem of wage theft in Santa Clara County through ongoing outreach and education. We support worker-led and community- based strategies and direct action that give workers and their allies more tools to prevent wage theft and recover stolen wages. We seek more effective enforcement of existing laws through wage theft ordinances and policies. The Coalition is piloting the smart phone app WorkerReport to report wage complaints in Santa Clara County.

The San Mateo County Union Community Alliance is a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for all workers and their families in San Mateo County through programs and partnerships with organized labor, community organizations and government, designed to support quality jobs, ensure community health, and create shared economic prosperity. SMC Union Community Alliance and the Labor-Community coalition Raise the Wage — San Mateo successfully pushed for a $15 Minimum Wage Ordinance for the City of San Mateo, and a $17 Living Wage Ordinance for San Mateo County.

StopWageTheftCA.org is a project of Smart Cities Prevail, a leading construction industry research and advocacy organization with tens of thousands of members across the country. Our goal is to enhance public awareness of the impact that wage theft is having on our industry and the economy, and to provide tools for policy makers, employers, workers and the public that promote enhanced enforcement of state labor laws and prevention of wage theft on public works and multi-unit housing projects.

Street Level Health Project is an Oakland-based community center dedicated to improving the well-being of underinsured, uninsured, and recently arrived immigrants in Alameda County. The project established the Oakland Workers’ Collective in 2012, to create pathways to safe and dignified employment for contingent workers at risk of exploitation and wage theft.

Working Partnerships is a community-labor organization dedicated to addressing the root causes of inequality for workers and communities of color in today’s economy. Based in Silicon Valley, it uses research and policy campaigns, civic engagement and leadership development, and community-labor organizing strategies to build the capacity of workers and their communities to lead and govern. Working Partnerships has championed a groundbreaking regional minimum wage plan in Santa Clara County, with seven cities so far raising their wage to $15 by 2019 or sooner. It also helped pass wage theft ordinances at the County of Santa Clara and City of San Jose, with stiff penalties for contractors and businesses that violate wage law.