Should “Wage Theft” Be Criminalized?


As the economy falters, policymakers are focusing on an increase of wage-theft complaints–employers failing to pay workers–reports USA Today. At South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice, at least 20 people report wage theft each week, three times as many as a year ago, director Jeanette Smith says. “You don’t have people work like slaves and pay them when you want to just because there’s a bad economy,” Seijas says.

A June report by the Government Accountability Office criticized the Labor Department’s enforcement of wage-theft complaints, calling its investigations “ineffective” and “often delayed by months or years.” Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said her department is hiring 250 more investigators – it had 731 in September of last year – to “refocus the agency on these enforcement responsibilities.” New Orleans City Council President Arnie Fielkow is working on an ordinance that is likely to make wage theft a crime, not a civil matter. “You simply need to pay those people,” Fielkow says. “It is unethical, inhumane and morally wrong to do otherwise.”

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