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Santa Monica City Officials Want to Get Tough on “Wage Theft”

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

July 20, 2015 -- With Santa Monica contemplating an ordinance to boost its minimum wage, City officials are exploring ways to enforce it.

Councilmember Sue Himmelrich said she wants the City -- which is poised to approve a minimum wage of at least $15.37-an-hour -- to explore ways to crack down on employers skirting the law or engaging in other forms of “wage theft.”

“I will bring it up,” Himmelrich said. “It can be on its own or we can wrap it into the minimum wage (ordinance). It’s one in the same.”

The measure could be similar to the one the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is expected to take up at its July 21 meeting, Himmelrich said. want an analysis of the county’s authority to regulate wage theft.  The county

“Victims are disproportionately immigrants, women and people of color,” said County Supervisors Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas, who are behind the motion.  

The most common forms of wage theft include failing to pay the minimum wage or earned overtime or to provide meal and rest breaks, illegal paycheck deductions, failure to provide a final pay check and misclassification of workers as independent contractors, according to the motion.

“Wage theft is a crime,” the motion says, “and in addition to depriving workers of their rightful property, it gives an unfair advantage to businesses that do not abide by the law, pushes commercial activity into the underground economy, and allows perpetrators to avoid paying their fair share of public costs.

Mayor Kevin McKeown also said he would like to see “enhanced protections” for employees from wage theft.

“When we discussed our potential minimum wage law in June, I specifically mentioned wage theft, and plan for our law to offer enhanced protections,”

But McKeown said the focus is not a new one for the City.

“Santa Monica already monitors and prosecutes wage theft aggressively,” McKeown said.

“In one recent case involving a car wash on Wilshire Boulevard we filed an eleven-count criminal complaint, based on an investigation by our City Attorney’s Consumer Protection Unit, and in late 2013 we recovered over $650,000 in back pay for workers.”

The Los Angeles County motion notes that a key to fighting wage theft is enforcement.

However, it notes that “federal and state enforcement agencies invariably receive insufficient funding to address the problem.”

In a recent letter to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, California Labor Commissioner Julie Su said that the growth in employers, employees and the underground economy in the State “challenges our staff.”

“We have fewer than 60 field investigators to cover the whole state,” she said. “In addition to field enforcement and Public Works enforcement, we process more than 30,000 new wage claims, seeking over $100,000,000 in unpaid wages, every year.

“Our Los Angeles office is our busiest by far, with over 5,000 wage claims filed a year.”

The letters notes that rather than wait for the state to fund anti-wage theft efforts, many local governments have adopted their own versions they can enforce on their own.

Miami-Dade County became the nation’s first county to adopt such a law. It requires violators to pay the hearing costs as well as restitution, which includes back wages and also liquidated damages or double or more the back pay owed.

Seattle also has moved to address the issue, Su said in the letter to the Garcetti.

A 2014 report by the University of California, Los Angeles Labor Center found that 655,000 low-wage workers in the County experience at least one violation in a given week. According to the Supervisor’s motion, 80 percent of low-wage workers who work overtime are not compensated at the lawful rate of pay.

Another 80 percent of these workers are denied their right to meal and rest breaks. Nearly 1 in 5 low-wage workers in the County works off the clock, it says.



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