Subscribe to E-Update here.
Labor Report

Maximum Protection for Minimum Wage Workers

Wage theft is a problem in America; whether in Shamokin or in San Francisco. It’s why I’ve proposed to tighten Pennsylvania's Minimum Wage Act and Wage Payment and Collection Law as part of my five-bill minimum wage package.

1010Because the federal government does not have the staff to effectively monitor these kinds of labor rights, a global publication is now suggesting that the best way to monitor and punish those employers who run afoul of the law is locally.

“A December 2014 Department of Labor study of over 980,000 workers found that as many as 10.9 percent of low-wage workers in California and 19.5 percent of low-wage workers in New York had wages stolen each month,” reported Al Jazeera America’s Amy Dean. “Across the two states, minimum-wage violations amounted to $195.2 million in monthly wages taken illegally from workers. The study showed that for more than 15,000 families this made the difference between being above the poverty line or not.”

When we held a Senate Labor Committee hearing on the need to raise the minimum wage in Pennsylvania – and to also strengthen state labor laws – Community Legal Services’ Michael Hollander, an employment unit lawyer, said wage theft is a significant problem here.

“Each week, upwards of two-thirds of low-wage workers experience wage theft,” Hollander said in our hearing. “Raising the minimum wage alone is ineffectual if we do not also ensure that the minimum wage is paid to workers.

“Wage theft directly harms workers by leaving them without pay, hurts businesses who are trying to comply with the law, but are undercut by competitors who unfairly cut costs by not paying workers, also robs taxpayers, as taxes to state and local governments go unpaid when workers go unpaid.”

MoneyAs you know, my SB 195 would increase the minimum wage to $10.10 by January of 2016. This bill, along with SB 198, would also increase record keeping requirements for employers, prevent employers from retaliating against employees who report suspected wage violations, increase fines and penalties against violators, allow employees to collect back-owed wages and two times those wages in damages. Further, both of these bills would create a self-funded Wage Enforcement Fund. This would enable the PA Department of Labor and Industry to be increasingly proactive in investigating employers and industries for possible violations, while strengthening the overall enforcement of the Minimum Wage Act and Wage Payment and Collection Law in the commonwealth.

Senate Bill 199 would prohibit employers from deducting bank fees or charges from employee tips when a customer pays their bill with a credit card.

It’s bad enough Pennsylvania employers don’t have to pay more than the $7.25 minimum wage. It’s worse when they steal from their own hardworking employees.

The problem of wage theft is also a head scratcher because, as the U.S. Labor Department reported on Friday: the cost of labor is less.

“Labor costs in the United States recorded their smallest increase in 33 years during the second quarter as workers were paid less in commissions and bonuses. The tiny gain appeared to be a temporary wage growth setback against the backdrop of diminishing labor market slack,” The New York Times reported.

UnemploymentPA Unemployment by County

Unemployment remains high in the Pennsylvania counties hosting Marcellus Shale drills. Makes you wonder where the people live who are working those jobs, doesn’t it?

The PA Department of Labor is out with the top 10 list of counties with the highest jobless rate:

1. Forest County - 7.4 percent
2. Cameron, Fayette, Philadelphia counties - 7.1 percent
3. Huntingdon County - 7.0 percent
4. Cambria County - percent
5. Clinton, Somerset counties - 6.6 percent
6. Monroe County - 6.5 percent
7. Clearfield, Sullivan, Tioga counties - 6.4 percent
8. Luzerne, Pike counties 6.2 percent
9. Bedford, Potter, Schuylkill counties - 6.1 percent
10. Armstrong, Fulton, Lawrence, Lycoming, Wyoming counties - 6.0 percent

Minimum Wage vs. Elsewhere

If they could afford it – and they cannot – PA’s minimum wage workers should move to any one of ten other places around the world.

According to the World Economic Forum, when measured against purchasing power, the U.S. minimum wage is paltry, by comparison. Of course, you knew that, too: