Low-Wage Workers Were Never Paid Damages Awarded in Court

| by Sarah Siskind
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Anita Herrera is a housekeeper in San Diego. According to the Los Angeles Times, for years her employers had her cleaning offices during a seven-hour shift without a break, which is breaking state law. When she did ask for a lunch break, her employers cut her hours. In 2009, Herrera filed a complaint.

After an investigation, California Labor Commissioner's Office awarded her $20,000 in penalties to be paid by her employers. Only, they never did.

Her former company changed its name, switched offices and got a new business license. Her story, though sad, is not uncommon.

According to a report released earlier today by the National Employment Law Project and the UCLA Labor Center entitled "Hollow Victories: The Crisis in Collecting Unpaid Wages for California's Workers," just 17 percent of pay and labor penalties were collected between 2008 and 2011. This makes up $165 million out of $390 million owed to predominantly low-wage workers.

Three out of five companies ordered to pay damages legally vanished.

In another case, a Los Angeles garment manufacturer was fined $300,000 in added wage and hour violations after it was discovered the company had avoided paying prior penalties.

The report indicates this is a recurrent practice in California with a massive immigrant and illegal immigrant population, underground and backhand channels for employment are frequent. The upshot of these underground janitorial firms is greater employment. With higher wages, companies cannot afford to hire as many.

However, this leaves workers susceptible to abuses of employment regulation. Moreover, it makes a mockery of the California judicial system when companies ordered to pay damages can avoid the penalty by shifting around paperwork.

In response to the report, California legislators are advocating the Fair Paycheck Act, which would apply a wage lien to the employer’s property to insure that some assets could pay unpaid wage settlements.

Sources: Los Angeles Times