The California Chamber of Commerce joined California Labor Commissioner Julie A. Su and the California Labor Federation yesterday in announcing the start of a statewide, multilingual campaign to educate workers and employers about wage theft.
Featuring the slogan “Wage Theft is a Crime,” the campaign illustrates how workers in low-wage industries—including agriculture, garment, construction and hospitality—are affected by wage theft.
Campaign-specific websites in English, www.WageTheftIsACrime.com, and Spanish, www.RoboDeSueldoEsUnCrimen.com, provide details on how to identify and report wage theft, retaliation and other labor law violations to the 18 offices of the Labor Commissioner located across the state.
The campaign, which also educates workers and employers about labor standards, such as minimum wage, overtime and meal and rest break requirements, features outreach to community-based organizations as well as a combination of print, radio and online media in order to reach a broad range of low-wage workers.
Su explained at yesterday’s news conference that the campaign also will target employers because “honest employers shouldn’t have to compete against wage theft violators.”
Supporting Su’s message in combating wage theft was CalChamber Policy Advocate Jennifer Barrera, who spoke at the news conference.
“Bad actors that operate in the underground economy not only hurt employees, but also law-abiding employers that are competing at an unfair disadvantage,” Barrera said. “We are hopeful that Commissioner Su’s efforts through this campaign to educate both employees and employers on their rights and responsibilities with regard to payment of wages will help to eliminate wage theft and balance the playing field amongst employers in California.”
The “Wage Theft is a Crime” public awareness campaign completes increased enforcement actions by the Labor Commissioner over the last three years that focus on the workers most at risk of experiencing wage theft. The Labor Commissioner’s targeted enforcement efforts have resulted in record-high amounts of minimum and overtime wages found owing to California workers and monetary penalties for illegal business practices. In addition, the Labor Commissioner’s efforts have protected law-abiding businesses from unfair competition by employers committing wage theft.
While it doesn’t happen often that the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, and the CalChamber share the same agenda, Labor Federation Legislative Director Angie Wei complimented CalChamber and all businesses for their dedication to protecting businesses and workers.
In this “unicorn moment” as Wei dubbed it, “We stand together with the Chamber because we agree that wage theft is a crime and their support acknowledges that it’s not fair and it’s not right for responsible employers who are trying to abide by the rules to compete against employers whose business practice, and whose whole business model is to cheat workers.”
In 2012 Su announced the creation of a Criminal Investigation Unit (CIU) to target employers who perpetrate “wage theft.”
Generally, “wage theft” is a phrase used to refer to infractions of the California Labor Code involving the payment of wages to workers. Wage theft might refer to employers who fail to pay for all hours worked, fail to pay nonexempt employees overtime, fail to pay minimum wage or fail to properly classify workers as employees and report them to the various state and federal agencies.
The goal is to protect workers and to allow companies that follow the law to compete. Cases handled by the CIU include:
- Workers’ compensation violations;
- Theft of labor (felony or misdemeanor);
- Payment of wages with bounced checks or insufficient funds;
- Unlicensed farm labor contractors and garment manufacturers;
- Kickbacks on public works projects;
- Violations involving minors on the job.
CIU conducts investigations, makes arrests for Labor Code violations, files criminal charges and serves subpoenas and inspection warrants. The CIU is made up of sworn peace officers who have completed the police academy and who qualify to carry firearms.
Wage Theft Media Campaign
In keeping with the campaign’s focus on California’s immigrant communities, the ads are tailored to best communicate with the ethnic groups in each region. Although English and Spanish advertisements and radio ads are slated to run statewide, print ads in the Bay Area will be published in Chinese, Vietnamese, Hmong, Tagalog in order to communicate with Asia immigrant groups.
Su highlighted her agency’s focus on targeting labor law violators and protecting law-abiding businesses from indiscriminate investigations at a meeting with the CalChamber Labor and Employment Committee.