Protect Honest Businesses, Says Growing Coalition of Workers and Business & Community Allies in Support of AB 2416

Before Assembly Committee Vote, Delegation Marched on Chamber Headquarters to Demand Organization Stop Defending Wage Theft

Sacramento, CA – Assemblymember Mark Stone joined a coalition representing ethical businesses, community organizations, and workers to call on the California Chamber of Commerce to stop defending unscrupulous businesses and on legislators to stand up for low-wage workers and level the playing field for honest businesses by passing the “Wage Theft Recovery Act,” AB 2416.

“People should get paid for the work they perform,” said Assemblymember Mark Stone, author of AB 2416. “But under current law, even when employees can prove that their employer denied them compensation for their work, frequently they do not receive their wages. This proposed law would help ensure that workers can recover the pay they earned.”

“By defending wage theft, the California Chamber of Commerce is sending a message that it doesn’t care about the ability of ethical employers to succeed on a level playing field. It’s time for the Chamber to stand up for honest businesses and drop its opposition to AB 2416,” Yong Lee, a Los Angeles-area small business owner, said at a news conference at the State Capitol today.

The Chamber of Commerce has opposed AB 2416 (Stone), the Wage Theft Recovery Act, which would give workers better tools to help them recover wages they are owed and level the playing field for honest businesses.

The coalition also unveiled a new online advertising campaign to reach out to more ethical businesses and share with them the Chamber’s defense of businesses that steal from workers. Targeted to small business owners across California, the ads ask business owners to sign a petition calling on the Chamber to stand with honest businesses by dropping its opposition to AB 2416 and stopping its defense of wage theft.

Wage theft is a wide-spread, illegal practice where companies shave hours off time cards, force workers to work off the clock, pay less than the minimum wage, or refuse to pay overtime as required by law. Wage theft amounts to billions of dollars stolen from workers pockets each year, hurting workers, their families, their communities, and law-abiding businesses.

Following today’s news conference, more than 100 workers, business owners and community allies marched to the Chamber headquarters in downtown Sacramento. There, they delivered an invoice for $240 million, representing the sum of money awarded from 2008-2011 to workers whose wages were stolen but that remains uncollected because current law affords workers no meaningful tools to hold the responsible businesses accountable following a judgment.

Experts from the UCLA Labor Center and the National Employment Law Project say the $240 million figure is just the tip of the iceberg. For every case that results in a judgment, many more cases of wage theft are never reported because workers face a long process of confusing paperwork with slim odds of collecting even a penny of what they are owed. A recent UCLA study pegged theft of wages from low-income workers in Los Angeles County alone at over $1 billion annually.

“It took a lot to fight for my wages, but even after I received the judgment I was frustrated,” said Juan Ramon Reyes, a gas station worker, from Los Angeles. “Instead of finally getting my wages for my family, it turns out I won nothing – a piece of paper with no value, that’s it. I haven’t received a single cent of the wages that were stolen from me.”

AB 2416 lets low-wage workers put a temporary hold on the assets of the responsible party when wages are stolen, expanding an existing tool available to many professions, some categories of workers, and banks. The wage lien is modeled after a successful law in Wisconsin that helps 80% of workers recover stolen wages. Without such a tool in California, low-wage workers collect wages in just 17% of cases when they have secured a judgment in their favor.

“Workers count on earning full paychecks to feed their families, so they need something stronger than the honor system to hold an employer accountable when wages are stolen,” said Mike Garcia, President of SEIU United Service Workers West (USWW). “AB 2416 creates a clear standard that prevents unscrupulous businesses from ducking responsibility.”

AB 2416 was scheduled for a vote today in the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee.

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The California Fair Paycheck Coalition is composed of dozens of labor, community, and worker’s advocacy groups, including the Service Employees International Union, California Labor Federation, California Immigrant Policy Center, National Employment Law Project, Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, Graton Day Labor Center, the Garment Worker Center, the Wage Justice Center and La Raza Centro Legal.

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