Ahead of Labor Day, Los Angeles City Council members Friday introduced a package of motions designed to combat what they describe as a “pressing problem of wage theft in the city.”
Council members Hugo Soto-Martínez and Tim McOsker said they introduced a package of legislation at Friday’s City Council meeting intended to improve enforcement of wage and hour violations across the city. The motions also aim to improve coordination between city departments to “effectively respond to and support victims of wage theft.”
“Today, we’re going to unveil an incredible package of motions that will begin the process of ending Los Angeles’ reputation as the wage theft capital of the United States,” Soto-Martínez said during a press conference outside City Hall. “Together, this legislation will bring justice to working people, who are facing and going up against corporate greed.”
Armando Gudino, Los Angeles Worker Center Network executive director, said he joined the council members to support and help their efforts to combat “one of LA’s most pressing challenges affecting global low-wage workers” — the issue of employee wages.
“As the City Council continues to work hard to address the systemic, challenging issues that make Los Angeles the homeless capital of the U.S., unfortunately Los Angeles has also been the wage theft capital of the nation, with low-income workers and others suffering disproportionately,” Gudino said.
He said that victims of wage theft lose an estimated 12.5% of take-home pay every year.
McOsker said they first introduced a motion in August, intended to identify resources and staffing needs for the city attorney’s office to better prosecute cases of wage theft.
The council members introduced two new motions Friday afternoon to further their efforts to address wage theft.
The first would empower the Office of Wage Standards to investigate violations of state wage and hour violations, along with “subtle ways” that wages are stolen, such as overtime, meal/rest break, late pay and tips violations.
Previously, only the state could investigate those, which led to underenforcement because of a lack of resources at the state level.
The second motion asks the Office of Wage Standards and the Civil + Human Rights and Equity Department to report back on how they can better collaborate so that no matter where workers report wage theft, they can get help.
Currently, different city departments are tasked with enforcing various types of employment violations, which can lead to uneven implementation, underenforcement and additional hurdles for workers looking to file claims.
“What we’re looking to do is make sure that we are letting folks know about those forms of wage theft in languages that are appropriate and create opportunities for folks to come to us,” McOsker said during the news conference. “So, that we can investigate and prosecute those crimes.”
The councilman noted that wage theft particularly impacts low-wage workers of color, immigrants, as well as women.
To offer support for those particularly impacted groups, the councilmen will introduce a pair of resolutions supporting federal legislation.
“We know that today in the United States, women make about 70 cents on the dollar for equal work compared to men,” McOsker said during the news conference. “Again, it is worse for women of color.”
He emphasized the resolution will support a federal bill that would establish that men and women are paid equally for work. Additionally, the second resolution will support a federal bill for healthy families — establishing a national standard for sick time off in the workplace.
“We really honored to be here in community to make sure that we’re moving forward on a slate of pieces of legislation to work with working families, and we see on Labor Day how far we’ve come,” McOsker said. “It’s also important for us to realize how far we need to make sure that everyone’s fairly paid.”
Soto-Martínez reiterated that $1.4 billion are lost every single year because people are mistreated — those who are cooks, dishwashers, housekeepers, many who are immigrants and women of color.
“Every year in the city of Los Angeles, more money is lost than we invest in homelessness,” Soto-Martínez said.
City Attorney Hydee Feldstein Soto echoed the council members’ sentiments, noting that wage theft in LA is staggering and takes different forms.
She said that despite the lack of specialized enforcement funding, her office resolved five cases recently, resulting in about $2.5 million in restitution to workers and additional penalties.
Jeremiah Gordon, organizing coordinator at Los Angeles Black Worker Center, touched upon the consequences Black Angelenos face due to wage theft.
“Although Black people make up 7.6% of the population in Los Angeles, Black people experiencing homelessness represent 31% of the unhoused population,” Gordon said. “Black workers experienced the highest rates of unemployment almost twice that of white workers because discrimination in LA happens far too often.”
Loss of income is a primary reason that residents fall into homelessness and substance abuse, he added.
Patricia Alvarez Solis, a car washer and member of CLEAN Carwash Worker Center, shared her experience as a Latina, immigrant and woman experiencing harassment and wage theft.
Solis explained how she loved her job as a car washer, but harassment and unfair wages — $10 to $15 a car — made her quit her job. She said she was unable to send money back to Mexico for her children and worried about paying rent.
“I’m here today to support the motions from council members Soto-Martínez and McOsker so they may protect the most vulnerable workers of our city and people like me, who work hard to feed their families.”