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Salon: Big win for labor in Chicago

by Josh Eidelson, Salon, January 18, 2003

By a unanimous Thursday vote, Chicago’s City Council passed one of the strongest “wage theft” laws in the United States. The move was hailed by labor activists, who’ve long complained that wage theft — not paying -workers what they’re legally owed — is one of the easiest crimes to get away with....

A 2012 report from the Progressive States Network noted that the ratio of federal Department of Labor enforcement agents to U.S. workers has fallen from one for every 11,000 in 1941, to one for every 141,000 today. When state labor agents are factored in, the authors found “less than 15 percent of the total enforcement coverage workers enjoyed decades ago.”

Since the New Deal-era passage of the New Deal’s Fair Labor Standards Act, they wrote, “enforcement capacity has diminished to the point where there are essentially no cops on the beat.”

The same PSN report graded states on how well their laws punish wage theft, protect worker whistleblowers, and promote accountability and transparency on the issue. New York scored highest, with a C+. Massachusetts earned a solid C, Illinois and three other states received Ds, and the rest of the country scored “F+” or worse. And even where companies get caught breaking the law, it often doesn’t cost them the chance to get hired by the government, let alone put them in danger of getting shut down. The Government Accountability Office found that the federal government awarded over $6 billion in fiscal year 2009 contracts to companies that had been cited for violating federal labor law.

Read the full article here.