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A new EPI paper finds that at least $2 billion in stolen wages was recovered for workers across the United States in 2015 and 2016. The comprehensive report on wage theft, by EPI Labor Counsel Celine McNicholas, Research Assistant Zane Mokhiber, and intern Adam Chaikof, is an update of EPI's 2014 survey. The findings come from an EPI survey of state labor departments and attorneys general, and data from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), along with a report on private, civil litigation class action settlements. Wage theft can take many forms, including: minimum wage violations, overtime violations, tipped minimum violations, and employee misclassification.
"Wage theft is a growing and pervasive problem that robs workers of billions of dollars every year. Yet little progress has been made to address this epidemic," said McNicholas. "State and federal enforcement agencies often lack adequate resources to effectively deter employers from violating existing protections and it is increasingly harder for workers to successfully file private claims as they are forced to sign-away their right to go to court as a condition of employment."
The authors note that it is impossible to determine the exact amount of wages stolen from workers during this time period, because DOL and state recovery figures underrepresent the problem of wage theft. However, the authors estimate that low-wage workers in the United States lost more than $50 billion to all forms of wage theft in 2016.
A recent EPI study that found that one of the largest forms of wage theft--minimum wage violations--impacts 17 percent of low-wage workers in the 10 most populous states. On average, workers suffering minimum wage violations are cheated out of $64 a week, or $3,300 annually.
Although wage theft is illegal, laws protecting workers are rarely enforced. In 2016, the U.S. DOL Wage and Hour Division had around 1,000 investigators responsible for 7.3 million workplaces. The probability of any specific workplace being investigated for wage theft in a given year is around 0.01 percent. Further, a recent study found that 14 states, most of which use the federal minimum wage, either lack the capacity to investigate wage theft claims or lack the ability to file lawsuits on behalf of victims.
Meanwhile, last week the Trump administration took their first major step toward allowing employers to legally take tips earned by the workers they employ. Under the DOL's proposed rule, as long as the tipped workers earn minimum wage, the employer can legally pocket tips pooled from their servers. Workers in restaurants and bars are much more likely to suffer minimum wage violations than workers in other industries, and this could exacerbate the problem.
"It is the Department of Labor's job to enforce our nation's worker protection laws and ensure that working people are paid fairly for their labor, not create mechanisms for robbing them," said McNicholas. "When policymakers wonder why working Americans are frustrated, they should consider the toll that wage theft takes on workers. It is fundamentally unfair to work hard and play by the rules while corporations rig the system against working people--literally taking money out of their pockets."
EPI is an independent, nonprofit think tank that researches the impact of economic trends and policies on working people in the United States. EPI's research helps policymakers, opinion leaders, advocates, journalists, and the public understand the bread-and-butter issues affecting ordinary Americans.(202) 775-8810
Over 100,000 marched in Tel Aviv against the government, in one of the biggest protests in Israel in many years
Tens of thousands of Israelis marched in central Tel Aviv and in two other major cities on Saturday night, protesting far rightwing PM Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to overhaul the legal system and weaken the Supreme Court — undermining democratic rule just weeks after his election.
Despite cold, rainy weather, marchers, many covered with umbrellas, held Israeli flags and placards saying “Criminal Government," “The End of Democracy,” and "We Are Preserving Our Shared Home." Netanyahu was guilty of a "legal putsch," read another.
Critics say Netanyahu's would cripple judicial independence, foster corruption, set back minority rights, and deprive Israel's court system of credibility.
Netanyahu and his ultranationalist security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir ordered police to take tough action if protesters displayed Palestinian flags at Saturday’s protest. Social media footage showed a number of Palestinian flags on display in defiance of Netanyahu.
\u201cLive update: Tzipi Livni adresses anti-government protest in Tel Aviv: \u2018Nobody is above the law, not even the PM\u2019 https://t.co/LRqjToFYkN\u201d— TOI ALERTS (@TOI ALERTS) 1673726103
"Elections do not give anyone the power to destroy democracy itself," said former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni as she addressed the protest in Tel Aviv, adding that Israel's far-right government is "carrying out a political takeover of the country and waging a war against its democratic institutions."
"Spilled poison, lies, slandering one's brother, marking as an enemy anyone who thinks differently. [They are doing] everything so that we crumble from the inside and weaken as a society before the big attack," she said.
"We will stop you, and we will not compromise because democracy in Israel, our freedom and our rights are not political trade," Livni said. "They can call us traitors, but we are the ones who protect the motherland from them. They can threaten handcuffs – we are not afraid," she said.
\u201cReports say between 100-150k people protesters came to Tel Aviv to fight for democracy and against Netanyahu's attempts to change the legal system a la Hungary, so he can avoid the multiple legal cases he has against him.\u201d— Dr. Pinkeee\ud83d\udc69\u200d\ud83d\udcbb@DrPinkeee@assemblag.es (@Dr. Pinkeee\ud83d\udc69\u200d\ud83d\udcbb@DrPinkeee@assemblag.es) 1673728531
\u201cLightning illuminates the sky as protesters take part in a rally against the new government over reform plans for the country's judicial system in Tel Aviv, Israel, 14 January 2023. \ud83d\udcf7\ufe0f epa / Abir Sultan\n\n#Israel #protest #supremecourt #epaimages\u201d— EPA Images (@EPA Images) 1673719320
\u201cGood to see Israeli and Palestinian flags together. Demonstrating to preserve democracy in Israel.\u201d— Leon Rozewicz (@Leon Rozewicz) 1673724863
\u201cSeveral Palestinian flags were raised(raising a \ud83c\uddf5\ud83c\uddf8 was declared a criminal offence by new Israeli Gov) during tonight\u2019s protest in #Tel Aviv where more than 100k people are gathered to protest against the newly elected government. \n#\u05ea\u05dc \u05d0\u05d1\u05d9\u05d1 \n#\u062a\u0644_\u0623\u0628\u064a\u0628\u201d— Unit 085 (@Unit 085) 1673726962
Greta Thunberg criticized Germany’s Green Party on Saturday for supporting the demolition of the village of Lützerath
Thousands of people demonstrated in a pouring rain on Saturday protesting the clearance and demolition of a village in western Germany that is due to make way for the expansion of the coal mine Garzweiler.
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg joined the demonstrators as they protested the clearance of Luetzerath, walking through the nearby village of Keyenberg. Protesters chanted “Every village stays” and “You are not alone.”
Activists from climate action groups including Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion and Last Generation came from across the country to join the protest.
\u201cThe carbon needs to stay in the ground. #GretaThunberg in #Luetzerath #LuetziBleibt #LuetzerathUnraeumbar #AlleDoerferBleiben #LuetziLebt\u201d— Guenther Schneider (@Guenther Schneider) 1673708029
Thunberg criticized Germany’s Green Party on Saturday for supporting the demolition of the village of Lützerath.
German outlet dpa reported:
Making deals with fossil fuel corporations such as energy giant RWE – which has bought the site of Lützerath for mining – “show where their priorities are”, Thunberg said of the Greens, who form part of Germany’s coalition government, in an interview with dpa.
Leading Green politicians such as Economy Minister Robert Habeck have defended the demolition of Lützerath, arguing that the coal below is needed to maintain energy security in the current crisis.
“The coal that is in the ground here will not lower prices immediately. Anyone who thinks like that is simply out of touch with reality,” Thunberg said.
The Greens are also in power in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia, where the village of Lützerath has become the latest flashpoint for activists opposed to the government’s continued use of coal.
During a visit to Lützerath Friday afternoon, 20-year-old Thunberg said it was "horrible to see what's happening here."
"We expect to show what people power looks like, what democracy looks like. When governments and corporations are acting like this, destroying the environment, putting countless people at risk, the people step up," she said.
The climate activist also referred to "outrageous ... police violence" occurring at the site.
Thunberg held up a sign that read, "Keep it in the ground."
Sara Ayech, Global Campaign Lead for Climate at Greenpeace International said Saturday: “We’re in 2023, in the middle of a climate crisis, and while destroying a village to expand one of the biggest carbon bombs in Europe should be considered criminal, it is still legal. Fossil fuel companies’ influence is so powerful that the ones considered criminals now are the ones fighting for climate justice. It is time to hold fossil fuel companies accountable.”
Environmentalists say bulldozing the village to expand the Garzweiler mine would result in huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.
The local and national governments, both of which include the Green party, made a deal with fossil fuel giant RWE last year allowing it to destroy the village in return for a promise to end coal use by 2030, rather than 2038.
\u201cThere has been a shocking amount of police violence against people protesting for climate justice in #Luetzerath, Germany. #RWE\u2019s profits and political deals obviously matter more to those in power than a liveable future on this planet \ud83d\ude22. \n\nhttps://t.co/hUse8kfz4u\u201d— 350.org Deutschland (@350.org Deutschland) 1673710812
\u201c35.000 Menschen trotzen Wind und Regen - was ein riesiger Erfolg f\u00fcr die Klimaschutzbewegung! Gemeinsam streiten wir gegen die Kohlebagger und verteidigen die 1,5-Grad-Grenze in #Luetzerath. Auf dass #Luetzerathbleibt!\u201d— Christoph Bautz (@Christoph Bautz) 1673702878
\u201c35,000 people show solidarity with the activists in #Luetzerath \ud83d\udc9a\n\nThey demand that fossil fuel companies stop their climate killing activities \ud83c\udf0e\ud83d\udd25\u201d— Greenpeace e.V. (@Greenpeace e.V.) 1673705823
"This is a huge victory for undocumented workers and the labor movement," said one organizer.
Migrant workers and advocates on Friday applauded a Biden administration policy to help protect noncitizen employees who are victims or witnesses of labor rights violations "from threats of immigration-related retaliation from the exploitive employers."
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that noncitizens will be able to submit requests for temporary relief from deportation or other immigration actions to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) "through a central intake point established specifically to support labor agency investigative and enforcement efforts."
"This policy will change lives, but only if our local and national leaders stand with workers loud and clear, to make this policy a reality."
DHS said that "for deferred action requests from noncitizens who are in removal proceedings or have a final order of removal, upon reviewing the submission for completeness, USCIS will forward such requests to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to make a final determination on a case-by-case basis."
As Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the Economic Policy Institute, explained Friday in a blog post welcoming the announcement:
Given the current budget constraints of federal labor standards enforcement agencies—which are funded at just one-twelfth the rate of immigration enforcement agencies—the use of deferred action in this manner will encourage workers and whistleblowers to speak out without fear and will act as a force multiplier for underfunded and understaffed labor enforcement agencies, thereby assisting them in their mission to protect worker rights and hold lawbreaking employers accountable. This will make workplaces safer for all workers.
Organizations from the Blue Ribbon Commission on Immigrant Work praised the policy, with Haydi Torres, an organizer with Unidad Latina en Acción NJ, declaring that "this is a huge victory for undocumented workers and the labor movement."
"Our fight goes beyond our immigration status, it is a fight for all the workers who sustain the economy of this country," Torres said. "Without our hands there is no work."
Yale Law School professor James Bhandary-Alexander, an attorney with Unidad Latina en Acción CT, said that "the threat of deportation is like a gun in the boss's hand, pointed at workers and their rights."
Workers' rights leaders such as Victor Agreda agreed, saying that "the bosses always act like they have more power than the workers."
While "my co-workers and I overcame our fear to denounce labor abuses," Agreda said, "deferred action is labor justice for all workers who remain silent in the face of abuse."
\u201cHUGE win for immigrant workers! This is a historic step for victims of workplace mistreatment and wage theft. This is only the start - we won\u2019t stop until there\u2019s #citizenshipforall! \u270a\ud83c\udffd\n\nMigrant workers can now be protected from deportation while disputing workplace abuse.\u201d— NICE: New Immigrant Community Empowerment (@NICE: New Immigrant Community Empowerment) 1673630263
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas asserted Friday that "unscrupulous employers who prey on the vulnerability of noncitizen workers harm all workers and disadvantage businesses who play by the rules."
"We will hold these predatory actors accountable by encouraging all workers to assert their rights, report violations they have suffered or observed, and cooperate in labor standards investigations," he pledged. "Through these efforts, and with our labor agency partners, we will effectively protect the American labor market, the conditions of the American worksite, and the dignity of the workers who power our economy."
Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU), said that "today's announcement by Secretary Mayorkas is welcome news. Immigrant workers are critical to the success of our economy, yet they are among those who suffer the most exploitation and abuse at work, and then suffer further from intimidation and retaliation when they stand up for their rights."
\u201cFor far too long, immigrant workers have had no one in their corner as they faced employers who threatened them with deportation and unlivable wages. This new guidance will help create fairer and safer working conditions for #OurComunidad and all workers.\u201d— Hispanic Federation (@Hispanic Federation) 1673647227
Since then-President-elect Joe Biden announced Marty Walsh as his nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Labor in October 2021, migrant worker advocates have pressured the administration to ensure that its immigration and labor policies are aligned and to protect whistleblowers by removing the threat of deportation.
"From Las Vegas to Washington D.C., to Mississippi to New York, we have fought tirelessly to reach this moment," Rosario Ortiz of the Arriba Las Vegas Worker Center noted Friday. "My coworkers and I have been fighting our case for more than three years, facing threats and intimidation on top of wage theft and health and safety risks as workers of Unforgettable Coatings Inc."
"We've met personally with Secretary Walsh and Secretary Maryokas to call for these protections," Ortiz said. "Today I am proud of my coworkers and our brothers and sisters across the country who have helped open a pathway for others in our circumstances to seek the protections that we have won."
\u201c#BREAKING: #DHS announces new migrant workers whistleblower policy! It\u2019s a recognition of the many workers who launched the #DALE campaign demanding Biden protect rights of migrant workers confronting abuse + unsafe work - with work permits - not try to deport them!\u201d— Justice Action Center (JAC) (@Justice Action Center (JAC)) 1673638469
While celebrating the administration's move, Unidad Latina en Acción CT director John Jairo Lugo stressed that "words without actions are not enough. This policy will change lives, but only if our local and national leaders stand with workers loud and clear, to make this policy a reality."
National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) co-executive director Nadia Marin-Molina vowed that "we are going to fight like hell in the days and weeks ahead to ensure that every single worker who qualifies can get the benefit of this new policy."
"We are going to fight like hell in the days and weeks ahead to ensure that every single worker who qualifies can get the benefit of this new policy."
Farmworker Justice, which also applauded the announcement, pointed out that the policy "will have a particularly powerful impact among farmworkers, more than half of whom are either undocumented or on precarious H-2A work visas, and their families."
"Farmworker Justice has supported advocate demands for these protections for many years, and we look forward to continued engagement with DHS as well as labor enforcement agencies to educate farmworkers and their advocates about the new guidance," the group said. "We will also continue to advocate for comprehensive solutions that improve the lives of farmworkers and their families, including legislation that provides immigrant workers with a path to citizenship, protections against workplace hazards like extreme heat and pesticides, and the elimination of unjust farmworker exclusions from federal labor protections."