Most California workers have no idea they may be victims of wage theft.
According to the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment’s report “Wage Theft and Workplace Violations in Los Angeles”, Los Angeles is the country’s wage theft capital.
The survey found that low-wage workers in Los Angeles regularly experience violations of basic laws that mandate a minimum wage and overtime pay and are frequently forced to work off the clock or during their breaks.
First, what is “wage theft”? According to the UCLA Labor Center, “Wage theft is the illegal practice of not paying workers for all of their work including; violating minimum wage laws, not paying overtime, forcing workers to work off the clock, and much more. It is a major problem statewide. In Los Angeles alone, low-wage workers lose $26.2 million in wage theft violations every week–making it the wage theft capital of the country.”
Now, let’s dive a little deeper into the UCLA report:
WHO IS MOST AFFECTED BY WAGE THEFT?
- Approximately 17% of all workers in L.A. County work in low-wage industries and frequently experience violations of minimum wage, overtime and break-time laws;
- Wage theft affects two thirds of the 750,000 low-wage workers in L.A. County;
- The average worker loses more than $2,600 to wage theft – 15% of their annual income;
- Workers in low-wage industries are most exposed to wage theft, including those employed by garment, cafeteria, fast-food, retail and residential construction businesses as well as those working as janitors and in restaurants or households.
MINIMUM WAGE VIOLATIONS
- Almost 30 percent of the L.A. workers sampled were paid less than the minimum wage in the workweek preceding the survey, a higher violation rate than in New York City, but with no statistically significant difference from Chicago.
- The minimum wage violations were not trivial in magnitude: 63.3 percent of workers were underpaid by more than $1.00 per hour.
- Among all L.A. respondents, 21.3 percent worked more than forty hours for a single employer during the previous work week and were therefore at risk for an overtime violation. Over three-fourths (79.2 percent) of these at-risk workers were not paid the legally required overtime rate by their employers.
- Like minimum wage violations, overtime violations were far from trivial in magnitude. Those L.A. respondents with an overtime violation had worked an average of ten overtime hours during the previous work week.
- Nearly one in five L.A. respondents (17.6 percent) stated that they had worked before and/or after their regular shifts in the previous work week and were thus at risk for off-the-clock violations. Within this group, 71.2 percent did not receive any pay at all for the work they performed outside their regular shift.
MEAL AND REST BREAK VIOLATIONS
- Among all L.A. respondents, 89.6 percent worked enough consecutive hours to be legally entitled to a meal break. However, more than three-fourths of these at-risk workers (80.3 percent) experienced a meal break violation in the previous workweek. The L.A. meal break violation rate was higher than that found in New York City, but Chicago had the lowest rate of the three cities.
- California law requires employers to provide workers ten-minute rest breaks during each four-hour shift (or two ten-minute rest breaks in a standard eight-hour shift). However, this requirement is often violated. The survey found that 81.7 percent of respondents eligible for rest breaks were either denied a break entirely or had a shortened break during the previous work week.
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