Screwed News

Jobs Grew in States Where Minimum Wage Was Raised

Last month the U.S. Department of Labor released data indicating that, contrary to critics’ claims, raising the minimum wage in some states might have encouraged job growth, not chilled it.

In 13 states that raised their minimum wages on Jan. 1, jobs have grown at a faster pace than in states that didn’t raise the wage. The figures contrast with a Congressional Budget Office report in February concluding that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, as the White House would like, would cost 500,000 jobs.

Some of the 13 states boosted minimum wages automatically to keep pace with inflation, but four — Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island — specifically raised them irrespective of an index.

Observers are quick to note that although the growth is welcome, it doesn’t establish a cause-and-effect of higher wages-better job growth. In other words: It’s complicated.

Some economists claim there no adverse employment effects from small increases in the minimum wage; some say there are. But a few things are clear — by international standards, U.S. minimum wage has been low for a long time; Congress adjusts it only occasionally; and those adjustments aren’t frequent enough to prevent inflation from eating away the value of the raise. The current federal minimum wage, $7.25 per hour, was raised most recently in 2009. According to The Economist, that means its real value is where it was in 1998.

Read the whole story on NPR.

Employment Law Firm Accused of Violating Labor Law

File this story under “irony”: A law firm that has represented both plaintiffs and defendants in Fair Labor Standards Act cases has been accused in federal court of failing to pay overtime to its paralegal staff.

The suit was filed by Jason Barros on behalf of the firm’s five paralegals and several former paralegals. Barros, who has worked for the firm for about five years, claims he worked 440 hours of overtime in 2011, 375 hours in 2012, 75 hours in 2013 and 60 hours so far this year. But the firm, Pasricha & Patel of Edison, N.J., classifies its paralegals as exempt from overtime, so it does not pay time-and-a-half for hours worked in excess of 40 per week. The suit says the paralegals are misclassified as exempt.

Exempt employees generally have management responsibilities, and are paid by salary, not by the hour. Employers sometimes misclassify nonexempt workers as exempt in order to escape overtime costs.

The lawsuit seeks double the overtime wages Barros claims are due him and the other collective action members, as provided under the FLSA.

It also says that the firm’s violation of the FLSA is willful; that is, it’s not an oversight or a mistake. “… in addition to the defendants being attorneys, this firm has itself represented employees who have alleged that their employer unlawfully failed to pay them overtime pay in violation of the FLSA,” the suit claims.

By law, some paralegals may be classified as exempt employees if they have an advanced specialized degree in another professional field relevant to their job duties. But none of the paralegals at Pasricha & Patel have such a situation.

Read the whole story on New Jersey Law Journal.


Court Protects Immigrant Workers Against Employer Discrimination

Last month, the California Supreme Court ruled that the state protects victims of job discrimination even if they are immigrants who illegally use somebody else’s Social Security numbers to get their jobs.

The real effect of the decision might not be much, because many of these workers are afraid of being deported if they sue their employers. But the ruling also might deter the kind of employers who take advantage of immigrants without green cards, assuming they won’t sue if they’re not paid. The law at issue here was designed to address such abuses.

The ruling was the result of a lawsuit by Vicente Salas. After he suffered a job-related back injury, Sierra Chemical Co., his former employer, refused to accommodate his disability, he claimed, and rehire him for seasonal work as retaliation for Salas filing a workers’ compensation claim.

Sierra Chemical Co. had gotten the lawsuit dismissed after showing evidence that Salas allegedly had used someone else’s Social Security number when he applied for the job. An appeals court upheld the dismissal, but the Supreme Court said federal immigration regulations didn’t pre-empt a state law protecting workers regardless of immigration status.

Read the whole story on the Los Angeles Times.

Home-Care Workers Have Been Overlooked for Too Long

Home-care workers — the people who take care of people who can’t look after themselves — have difficult jobs, physically and emotionally. They also, historically, have a difficult time being paid for their worth.

A recent commentary, “Push Back on Home Care,” supports a new federal regulation to ensure that home-care workers receive at least minimum wage and time-and-a-half for overtime. The rule changes a “misguided” policy established in 1974 that denied home-care workers these common wage protections.

In the spring, some states lobbied the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to delay implementing the rule from January 2015 to June 2017, claiming that it was too complex. Hardly. What they meant was that it would put a strain on their Medicaid budgets, which often pay home-care bills and which have been underpaying them for a long time. But the DOL refused to accommodate the delay.

The next challenge is a lawsuit filed by three home-care agencies claiming that the DOL exceeded its authority and didn’t follow proper procedures.

As the commentary concludes, home care is one of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing occupations — “into a path to poverty for the workers. It has created a work force with high turnover and dead-end prospects. It has shifted the cost of care onto the public in the form of food stamps and other public aid that many home care workers are forced to rely on.”

It needs to be fixed through fair pay and accessible care. Now.

Read the whole story in the New York Times.


City Council Looks to Bust Businesses That Steal Wages

“Los Angeles is really the wage-theft capital of the country,” said Tia Koonse of the UCLA Labor Center. “Workers are simply afraid to come forward.”

The L.A. City Council hopes to change that with a new city ordinance to crack down on businesses that cheat employees of their pay. The goal is twofold — to ensure that workers are being paid the right wage for all their labors, and to maintain a fair competitive arena for all businesses. Employers who cheat their workers simultaneously provide themselves with more resources to compete.

Wage theft occurs in several ways, from failing to pay minimum wages or overtime, forcing workers to miss the breaks to which they are entitled by labor law and illegally deducting workplace costs, such as uniforms, from their paychecks. A UCLA study four years ago concluded that a huge majority of low-wage workers in Los Angeles County, far more than in New York or Chicago, had experienced some form of wage theft.

The details of the new ordinance haven’t been determined, but among ideas under consideration are punishing businesses that steal from employees by revoking licenses or permits, establishing a local agency to investigate theft claims and ramping up protections for workers who report such violations.

Other cities have passed similar laws, including Chicago and Seattle.

Laws against stiffing workers exist now, but the process to make and pursue claims with the state labor commissioner is slow and often ineffective. Last year, the UCLA Labor Center and the National Employment Law Project found that 83% of California workers who won state judgments were unable to recover their lost wages, often because the guilty business had closed.

One of them was Felipe Villarreal, who won his claim but said he was owed $67,000 from a former job at an L.A. car wash that has since closed.

Another was Axel Paredes, a handyman who said he had been promised $9 an hour but was paid only $5 or $6 hourly.

Read the whole story in the Los Angeles Times.

Furniture Retailer Redecorates Its Pay Structure

With the intention of creating “a better everyday life” for its employees, Ikea, the Swedish furniture company, is revising its wage structure, according to Rob Olson, Ikea’s acting president for the U.S. and its chief financial officer.

Workers at the 38 U.S. stores will get a minimum wage boost of 17%, as announced last month. The actual figure will vary according to the cost of living in each particular area, but the average will be $10.76 per hour. That works out, for example, from a low of $8.69 an hour at stores in Pittsburgh and West Chester, Ohio, to $13.22 an hour at the store in Woodbridge, Va. The average wage is $3.51 above the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Ikea is the latest large retailer to raise its minimum pay across the board; Gap Inc. (which includes Banana Republic and Old Navy) raised its wage to a $9 minimum earlier this year. Ikea’s minimum wage affects about half of its 13,120 U.S. employees.

Ikea is known for offering competitive benefits, including matching contributions for 401(k) plans, and a bonus program that feeds a new retirement fund.

Read the whole story in the New York Times.

Council Hopes Ordinance Will Stop Exploitation of Immigrant Workers

The landscaping business is a huge employer of immigrant laborers, and also a huge practitioner of paying these workers under the table. That makes them ripe for wage theft — if you don’t keep proper records, there’s no proof of who worked when and for how long.

The Princeton Council in New Jersey has had enough of landscapers exploiting undocumented immigrants, and has introduced an ordinance to require these businesses to register with certain agencies of the local government.

Such registration requires employers to acknowledge familiarity with and possession of copies of federal and state wage laws and workers’ compensation laws. If a landscaper is found to have violated any of them, it could be barred from doing business in Princeton.

The authorities also hope to address other industries renowned for practicing wage theft — restaurants and construction.

One council member said the measure’s primary goal is to protect undocumented immigrants, who often are afraid to report wage theft for fear of being deported. Princeton has the reputation as a haven for illegal immigrants, because local police have a policy of limited cooperation with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Read the whole story in The Princeton Packet.

Residents Rally in Support of Cleaner Seeking Back Pay

Last month, people protested at Outback Steakhouses in Cedar Rapids, Clive and Sioux City, Iowa. But they weren’t speaking out for themselves, they were offering support for a worker who claimed that she hadn’t been paid for the hours she put in cleaning the restaurants.

Kossiwa Agbenowassi, an immigrant from West Africa, worked for Sandpiper Maintenance & Repair, the company Outback contracted with for cleaning services. Employers often take advantage of immigrants because they’re perceived as powerless. Although Sandpiper is the offending party, the protesters believe the restaurant chain is ultimately responsible for the $2,300 Agbenowassi says she’s owed for 49 days of work.

Outback says it paid Sandpiper the proper amount per its contract, and said that Sandpiper “should be held accountable for failure to pay their employee. While we cannot control another company’s business practices, we can choose to no longer use that company — which is what we’ve done.”

So the protest was more about taking responsibility for what happens on your premises, and making reparations. “We are here demanding that Outback take some responsibility for the benefit they got out of that labor and they pay her or somebody pay her for the work that she did,” said one protester, Misty Rebik. She’s the executive director of the Center for Worker Justice.

Read the whole story on

NY Car Wash Workers Routinely Get Hosed

Of course car wash owners in New York are up in arms over a proposal to the City Council to impose a license fee on their operations and require surety bonds. But perhaps they doth protest too much, given the industry’s history of stealing wages from its workers.

A labor department report from 2010 indicated that nearly 8 in 10 car washes in the city were suspected of wage violations, including paying workers below minimum wage and forcing them to split tips with nonservice employees.

Advocates of the proposed law say it will address the problem of owners paying substandard wages, refusing to pay overtime rates and stealing tips. They say some of these business owners have even sold out, stranding employees who are owed back wages.

“We need to make minimum wage, we need overtime. We are very much tired of paying out of our tips if anything is damaged — they are supposed to have some type of insurance to cover this damage,” said one worker.

The proposed laws would require car wash owners to pay $550 fee for a license issued by the Department of Consumer Affairs and to pay $300,000 in surety bonds as insurance for lawsuits or other claims. Owners also would have to pass “character” screenings.

The business owners say that the intent of the proposal is to unionize car wash workers, because before the bill was amended, the surety bond amount was only $30,000 for unionized facilities.

If these businesses were fair to their employees, union or otherwise, it wouldn’t be an issue.

Read the whole story on the New York Post.

Housing Agency Expected Employees to Work ‘Off the Clock’

Investigators from the U.S. Department of Labor found that the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority failed to compensate employees for hours that they worked before and after their shifts or during meal breaks. It ordered the housing agency to pay $425,000 in back pay to the 77 workers it ripped off.

You’d think such a state agency would be sensitive to the realities and legalities of operating on the economic margins — it’s charged with providing housing for low-income families.

But that wasn’t its only labor offense — the DOL also found that the authority had classified some employees as salaried and exempt from overtime requirements, despite the fact that their job responsibilities did not qualify them for salaried/exempt status.

That wasn’t the only recent whopping big breach of labor law in northern Nevada:  More than 4,700 current and former hourly employees of the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino were allowed to join a class-action lawsuit seeking wage and overtime compensation.

They’re seeking a significant amount — possibly exceeding $50 million — for working “off the clock” for a few years. Like the housing authority situation, that’s when workers are on the job before they clock in or out for their shifts, and it’s a common way for employers to steal wages.

Read the whole story from Associated Press.