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Worker justice network decries wage theft

Employers owe $20 billion to $50 billion a year to workers who are afraid
to complain because their jobs may be at risk, advocates say.
A Web-only photo courtesy of Peter Griffin.

By Allison Bovell*
July 16, 2009 | WASHINGTON (UMNS)

The deteriorating economy and rapidly increasing unemployment rates are fueling a hidden crime that robs the lowest paid employees of their just wages, said the director of a watchdog organization for worker justice.

Employers owe $20 billion to $50 billion a year to workers who are afraid to complain about illegal withholding of pay because their jobs may be at risk, said Kim Bobo, director of Interfaith Worker Justice and author of “Wage Theft in America.”

“Wage Theft in America” is a handbook for faith groups on how to prevent exploitation of America’s working people.

Interfaith Worker Justice is a network of people of faith that works to improve wages, benefits and conditions for workers. Their mission is to mobilize all religious communities in the United States on issues of economic justice, specifically those surrounding low-wage workers. Interfaith Worker Justice receives financial support from The United Methodist Church.

Employers might steal wages in several ways, including forcing employees to work “off the clock,” not paying for overtime, withholding a final paycheck or refusing to pay at all, according to the organization. Up to 3 million workers are not being paid minimum wage, according to Bobo.

Robbing workers of adequate pay infringes on their basic human rights and dignity, Bobo said. Proverbs 22:22 advises, “Do not exploit the poor because they are poor.”

The United Methodist Church’s highest policy-making body, the General Conference, adopted a resolution last year urging the U.S. Department of Labor to expand investigations of industries that routinely violate wage-and-hour laws, to partner with workers’ centers and congregations in ministry with low-wage and immigrant workers and to develop resources educating workers
about their rights.

Interfaith Workers Justice is drafting legislation, “The Stop Wage Theft Bill,” that it hopes will be introduced in Congress this year. The bill will mandate pay stubs for workers, protect workers from retaliation for filing complaints with government agencies and provide resources to community organizations to work with the Department of Labor to eliminate wage theft.

The network has developed a Web site, CanMyBossDoThat, dedicated to ending wage theft. 

*Bovell is an intern at the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. She wrote this story for Faith in Action, the board’s newsletter.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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