American workers know they’re working more than ever before, for less pay. They don’t think they can get by — much less get ahead — even if they work hard.
And too often, they’re right that the deck is stacked against them. Across our country and our state, too many workers are putting in long hours for an honest day’s pay, only to have their employers cheat them out of the paycheck they’ve earned.
While most employers treat their workers fairly, there are still far too many who force employees to work off the clock, refuse to pay them minimum wage, steal their tips, or deny them overtime pay. Another trick employers pull to avoid paying fair wages and benefits is misclassifying workers — for example, a food service contracting company might call a “cook” a “dishwasher” to avoid paying the higher cook’s salary.
And we know that workers in low-wage industries like food service, childcare, and retail service are at the greatest risk.
The National Employment Law Project surveyed low-wage workers in three cities across the country, and found that 26 percent of workers surveyed were paid less than minimum wage the previous week, and 76 percent of those who had worked more than 40 hours were not paid the legally-required overtime. And when workers file a complaint, they often face harsh retaliation from employers. Most workers who are being taken advantage of don’t speak up, for fear of having their hours cut or being fired.
These Americans are working long hours at demanding jobs to support their families. We should be encouraging work and making sure that work pays off — not letting employers get away with cheating Ohioans out of the paycheck they’ve earned.
That’s why, along with Sen. Murray, I’m introducing the Wage Theft Prevention and Recovery Act, to crack down on this wage theft.
The bill would create new civil penalties for employers who engage in wage theft, and give workers the right to receive full back pay for the wages that were stolen. Right now, even when employers are caught stealing wages, employees are only able to recover lost pay at the minimum wage rate, even if their hourly rate is higher than that.
That’s not right. When a worker is stolen from, they should be repaid in full.
To help make sure that happens, the bill also increases the number of years workers have to bring a wage theft claim in court. And it would require employers to provide regular paystubs, so workers can keep track of the pay they’ve earned, and more easily catch potential theft.
This is a commonsense plan to protect workers, boost economic security, and ensure that work pays off for all Americans — not just the wealthiest few.
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U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, serves in the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C.