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Labor advocates push for law making wage theft a criminal offense in L.A.

Advocates for day laborers and other low-wage workers are pushing for a new city law that would target unscrupulous employers by making wage theft a crime in the city of Los Angeles.

They have found an ally in City Councilman Richard Alarcon, who plans to introduce a motion on Tuesday directing the city attorney’s office to write an ordinance that would criminalize nonpayment of wages.

“People think that just because they pick up somebody on the street or at a day laborer center that they don’t have the responsibility to pay them if they don’t like the work,” Alarcon said. “This would make it illegal for somebody to do that.”

Los Angeles would join a handful of cities, including Austin, Texas, and Denver, that hold employers criminally responsible for not paying their employees. State and federal laws govern overtime, minimum wage and other labor standards, but the penalties typically are meted out through civil, rather than criminal, procedures. A local ordinance would allow city prosecutors to file misdemeanor charges against employers.

Alarcon said he was motivated by a recent study that showed many low-wage workers in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago often don’t receive minimum wage or overtime pay.

The study, based on interviews with more than 4,300 workers, found that 26% of workers weren’t paid minimum wage the week before and that 76% of those who worked overtime the previous week weren’t paid the proper overtime rate.

According to the report, the violations were widespread and occurred in various industries, including construction, child care and apparel.

“We were shocked ourselves,” said Ruth Milkman, a UCLA sociology professor and one of the authors of the study.

Milkman said employers need to know the laws – and that there are consequences for not following them. “If criminal penalties are what is needed, there is no reason not to try that,” she said.

Gary Toebben, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, said that people who work deserve to be paid, but that there are a lot of unanswered questions involving a possible ordinance, including what the trigger would be for an arrest and if it would cause additional backlogs in the courts. Before any ordinance is drafted, city officials should include private employers in the discussion.

“If the City Council is considering this, they would want to sit down with employers and labor attorneys ... rather than simply passing a law,” he said.

-- Anna Gorman

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Comments () | Archives (14)

Let's see, it's ok to go after people who don't pay the minimum wage to law breaking illegals but it's not ok to arrest illegals who have broken Federal law by sneaking into the USA? Makes sense for LA.

You know if these people were legals and if it were mandatory that both fulfilled their side of the contract (oral or written) then moral obligations would be satisfied by both parties. Perhaps it would be a good idea to have either a written contract or employers mandated to go through an employment agency and quit trying to get something for nothing. This of course would necessitate that help be paid the prevailing minimum wage instead and be covered by liability insurance.

This is exactly the reason business likes illegal immigrants-and I dare say most of the workers getting ripped off are illegal immigrants.

Good luck getting support from any Chamber of Commerce. They wouldn't object if businesses were flogging their workers.

What we need is criminal penalties for day laborers who are in our country illegally.

That would clear up most of the problems of day laborers. Who cxares about these people who have no interesat in our laws or our country.

Go back to wherever you came from and work there.

This is good , But it must apply ONLY to those in the Country LEGALLY !!! ALL others must be DEPORTED ! Our laws MUST NOT protevt the 20 MILLION ILLEGAL ALIEN who have ignored our laws ! They want to pick and choose which laws apply to them ???? DEPORT DEPORT DEPORT !!!

Prosecute and penalize the offending companies.

If the laborers are illegal immigrants, penalize and deport the offending illegal immigrant.

Why is Alarcon only going after the offending companies? What a sleazeball.

Time to get rid of the advocates for criminals.

good lord, where is all the ALLCAPS SCREAMING when Arnie and Maria break law after law after law - should they be deported, too? he has hurt this state far more than hardworking farmworkers, who give far more than they receive (as is evidenced by this study, plus a million other studies proving how much better off we are for having immigrant laborers in this country).

all you people looking down at immigrants as though they are the problem need to look UPWARDS to see who is REALLY screwing you. it ain't the guy stooping in the sun all day, picking your strawberries for cheap - it's the guy making $500 million/year from viciously and constantly ripping you off and bribing your government to rule against you.

you people are so gullible to be taken in by the propaganda the men with cigars feed you - think for yourselves. look at the Goldman Sachs manipulation of our economy, the Exxon and Dow Chemical destruction of our planet for money, the abusive employment practices that have left wages stagnant or dropping since 1972, while the rich have steadily gotten super-rich. Do you seriously think these jerks in suits are worth that much more than you in a supposed "democratic meritocracy" or does it occur to you that they have gamed the system to take everything they got out of your pockets?

your babysitter is not the problem, bro - look UP and catch a clue.

Only in LA is it "illegal" not to pay "illegals!"

OK pay them, but if they join gangs, do graffiti or deface restaurant mirrors ofrgas pump withhold their wages!

Does this mean the illegals, who have been perpetrators of "wage theft", finally could be arrested in L.A.? Perhaps so when the guy with the yellow stripe up his uniform leaves ?

I really believe in fairness in all occupations. I also believe that in order to be aid for a job the job has to be done correct to OEM specifications. If these people are out soliciting their services, they should be held accountable for the work they perform. Just like any other contractor, punchlist and chargebacks for sub-standard work. If the work is sub-standard why should employers be held to full (or fools) pay for half done work. The councilman should really reconsider this action or perhaps retire as it seems his job has become personal. How are these people allowed to work anyway without credentials..... Councilman how is this possible no credentials but work? Are these folks being detained when they go into an official office to complain? for illegal entrance into the country.

Where are these workers? I can't find anyone to work for less than $10 an hour at Home Depot or anywhere else.

I think Alarcon needs to be deported without his wages...


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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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