Monday, September 14, 2009

Illegal Pay Practices Surface for Minimum Wage Workers

Results of a recent study of low-income workers exposed a widespread disregard by their employers for federal labor laws related to overtime pay and minimum wage standards ("Low-Wage Workers Are Often Cheated, Study Says" - The New York Times, September 1, 2009). The study found that of the 4,387 employees studied, 68 percent received an average of 15% less income than they actually earned. Legal immigrants and American-born workers comprised 61% of the workers studied. Workers also reported that 57% were not given "mandatory pay documents the previous week" and 12% said that some tips were withheld. Employees in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City took part in the study, “Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers" sponsored by the Ford Foundation, the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation, the Joyce Foundation and the Russell Sage Foundation.

Discussion Questions:
  1. Workers for this study were questioned about wages in early 2008 before the economic downturn hit its peak. In 2009, do you think workers likely experience more illegal wage practices as a result of worsening economic conditions for employers? Why or why not?
  2. Do you know someone who has received less pay and tips than they expected due to an employer illegally withholding wages? Do they have an estimate on how much income they lost as a result?
  3. Does the government need to hire more people to check on employers pay practices? Or do business groups need to take more action to encourage employers to pay workers fair wages?

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