State legislatures have seen an onslaught of anti-worker legislation in the past two years, with conservative legislators exploiting economic fears to dismantle collective bargaining rights and impede progress on labor standards. Yet, in statehouses across America this year, progressive leaders remained dedicated to fighting for workers’ rights and continued to advocate for legislation that will ensure greater economic security for all citizens. Here is a look at some of the inspiring victories and continuing challenges faced by state lawmakers who sought to advance policies to ensure economic security for working families in sessions this year:
Last year, the corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) came under fire for their support of voter suppression and "shoot first" laws. In response, ALEC claimed they would "redouble their efforts on the economic front" this year. But, in fact, ALEC has long focused on policies that weaken wage standards and otherwise endanger working families — and a new report released this week by the National Employment Law Project (with research support from PSN) shows just how. At the same time, efforts to combat the ALEC economic agenda advanced in states including Maryland and Washington as polls and research continue to show that policies like raising the minimum wage, paid family leave, and paid sick days are popular and good for the economy:
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."
With Census Bureau statistics released this week showing inequality rising and median household income declining to the lowest level in 16 years, Progressive States Network joined more than 20 of America’s leading organizations on work and the economy today in releasing a plan outlining 10 specific ways to rebuild America’s middle class. The new report recommends concrete proposals to strengthen the economy for the long-term by creating good jobs and addressing the economic insecurity that has spread to millions of U.S. families.
Stealing hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of dollars is, generally speaking, a risky proposition. Take it from a wallet, or a private house, or a bank — and get caught — and chances are good that criminal prosecution awaits. There’s an exception to this rule though, a loophole that’s especially gaping in Philadelphia: Steal from your employees, do it openly and flagrantly, and your worst-case scenario is generally just a civil lawsuit. Best-case — and most likely — scenario: You get away scot-free.
A ranking by the Progressive States Network found that “Florida has exactly zero laws on the books that would incentivize employers to stay honest.” And when it comes to holding employees accountable to their employees with such measures as notice of wages and paydays and pay stubs with each pay period, “Florida held the shameful honor of scoring 0, a score that only Alabama and Mississippi — two states that have never had wage and hour laws — can also share.”
On the heels of a report stating that Florida is the 15th worst state in the nation for workers trying to recover stolen wages, the Broward County Commission directed the county attorney to draft a wage theft ordinance, following the examples of Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties. The report issued by the Progressive States Network graded states based on how well they protect workers ability to receive their earned wages. According to the report, if this were school, Florida would have flunked out by now.
“By our estimation New York has the strongest law in the country,” says Tim Judson, workers' rights policy specialist with the Progressive States Network, and co-author (with Cristina Francisco-McGuire) of a new study, Cracking Down on Wage Theft: State Strategies for Protecting Workers and Recovering Revenues. “But wage theft laws are almost universally poor. In recent years a few states took strong steps, but even those laws have a ways to go before they are a model standard that could really be effective in cracking down on a problem this huge.”
This 50-state survey of states’ wage theft laws reveals the majority of state laws to be grossly inadequate, contributing to a rising trend in workplace violations that affects millions of people throughout the country. The growth of this and other forms of the “underground economy” also have a serious impact on state revenues, amounting to billions of dollars per year in tax and payroll fraud. Several states are acting to address these problems by strengthening their laws against unscrupulous employers.
Wage theft, or the systemic non-payment of wages by unethical employers, is a growing problem affecting millions of workers across the country and costing states billions of dollars in lost tax revenue. Yet, only a few states are starting to address the problem in earnest through legislation – and the vast majority have laws that are grossly inadequate. Those are the conclusions of an extensive, first-of-its-kind evaluation of state laws, Where Theft is Legal: Mapping Wage Theft Laws in the 50 States, released by Progressive States Network. The report grades individual states across the broad body of state laws needed to comprehensively address this growing national crime wave, and concludes that 44 of the 50 states (plus Washington D.C.) deserve failing grades.