Mar 16, 2015
Two weeks ago, a California state agency cited many car wash businesses in the Los Angeles area for wage theft.
Such theft cases are neither new nor unusual. The federal and state government agencies have reported such thefts and issued citations for decades. There are laws in place against wage theft. But, as these latest wage theft cases show, these laws exist only on paper, but are not enforced.
Wage theft happens at a staggering level. In 2010, UCLA researchers found that almost 30 percent of L.A. workers were paid less than the minimum wage, close to 80 percent of workers were not paid overtime, close to 20 percent of workers were forced to work “off the clock,” 80 percent were forced to work on their meal break, and 45 percent experienced illegal deductions from their paychecks for items such as uniforms and work tools.
This study also indicated that businesses in other large cities, like New York and Chicago, also stole from their workers. Wage theft is an epidemic practice affecting the entire U.S.
These wage thefts are not limited to workers working in small size businesses such as restaurants, car wash businesses and auto repair shops. Big businesses are also involved in wage theft. In a court settlement in 2008, Wal-Mart agreed that it had forced employees to work “off the clock” without pay after their official shifts. This wage theft involved hundreds of thousands of current and former workers of Wal-Mart, across the country.
However, in most such cases, courts side with the businesses. In January of this year, in a case similar to that of Wal-Mart, all nine judges of the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that companies don’t have to pay their workers for the time they force workers to wait for security screening after work. The lawsuit was brought by warehouse workers in Nevada who are hired by a temp agency to fill orders for Amazon. The workers said that the wait often takes close to half an hour, amounting to two and a half hours a week they are not paid for.
Companies are relentlessly attacking workers to drive down their wages. The federal government and the states are in collusion with the companies in this attack. Wage theft is just one such standard business practice to drive down the wages.
But even without such practices, wages are already outrageously low. For example, in California, the state minimum wage is $9 an hour. Workers say that even $25 an hour is not a good wage for having a decent life. In other words, every day the capitalists steal from us legally.