DeLauro Targets Wage Theft

Markeshia Ricks PhotosBrothers Axel and Henry Tubac worked for a company installing kitchens. For the first two years they were paid without fail. Then, for six and seven weeks, respectively, their employer stopped paying them.

When they met with U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro at New Haven Legal Assistance headquarters Tuesday afternoon, the brothers still hadn’t been paid.  They have filed suit against their former employer for wage theft.

“It was just a nightmare what happened to me,” Axel Tubac recalled. “I did not have food. I talked to my boss many, many times. He just seemed like he don’t care. He owes me about $4,000; $500 in overtime that he did not pay.”

If DeLauro has her way, a bill that she is sponsoring will help the Tubac brothers get what is owed to them. And the government will have enough people to crack down on employers who steal from their employees.

DeLauro stopped by the legal aid office on State Street Tuesday to announce that she has introduced the Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act; U.S. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington State is the Senate sponsor.

“Workers put in their hard work and are deprived of wages that are rightfully theirs,” DeLauro said. “We know that one of the biggest issue we face today is that people are in jobs that don’t pay them enough money, now you compound that with someone who is putting in the hours and is not paid for this work, that’s what this bill addresses.”

The legislation would require that employers not only provide workers with a pay stub, but also disclose the terms of employment. It would allow employees access to employers’ wage and hours records so that they can make sure that they are being paid properly.

In addition to enhanced requirements for employers, the bill penalizes employers who misclassify their workers and make certain that employees receive their final pay check within two weeks of leaving their job. The bill would make it easier for workers to file class action lawsuits.

The bill provides for increase penalties for violating wage and hour laws, including a civil penalty of $2,000 for first-time violators and $10,000 for repeat offenders.

In addition to the increased civil penalties, business owners caught stealing from their employers would be required to pay damages that are in some cases triple the wages owed plus interest. The bill would require that employers pay whatever the original terms of employment were.

Under current federal law, workers can recoup only minimum wages, which means if an employer had agreed to pay a higher wage, the employee can’t recoup stolen pay at that higher wage.

“These fines are directed only at those employers who steal wages from their employees,” DeLauro said. “If a business owner is following the law, it has no effect on them.”

Enforcement Is Key

Determining which employers are following the law is a tricky proposition.

New Haven Legal Assistance attorney James Bhandary-Alexander, who has represented numerous clients in wage theft cases, said while state law is stronger in some ways than federal wage and hour law, tenforcement is a problem. There are about 1,000 federal inspectors enforcing wage and hours laws for the entire country; state labor departments don’t have many more resources. Bhandary-Alexander pointed out while Connecticut has an active labor department, it is underresourced; some states don’t have a labor department at all.

Unidad Latina en Acción (ULA) organizer John Lugo, who has been front and center pushing police departments to enforce the criminal provisions of the state and federal wage theft laws, joined Tuesday’s event..

“We feel strongly that wage theft is a theft,” Lugo told DeLauro Tuesday. “If a worker like me goes to Stop & Shop and steals a piece of candy, got detained by the security officer, I will be charged with larceny. But you have repeat offenders like Goodfellas restaurant and ... nothing happens.

Lugo was arrested on Nov. 22 for disturbing the peace during a protest outside of Goodfellas. He argued that the police are more interested in harassing him for protesting rather than going after restaurant owners that are allegedly committing the far more serious crime of stealing from their employees and thumbing their noses at the law.

“Our argument to the police department is ‘Why are you giving us a hard time for exercising our right to boycott? Why don’t you do anything against this guy who is stealing wages from the workers?’”

Lugo said ULA has tried to get the New Haven Police Department to detain wage theft law violators and even encouraged employees to file complaints with the police, but they are often told that wage theft is a civil court issue.

“I know the economy is not good, but employers should not make their money off the backs of the workers,” he said.

Bhandary-Alexander said that wage theft is not just a civil issue, but a criminal one too. He said municipalities and their police departments have been resistant to enforcing wage theft laws because they see such crimes “as something someone else is in charge of.”

“These are criminal statutes,” he said. “The federal statue has a very, very weak criminal provision. The state provision is not very, very weak, but police departments don’t have it in their charge books. A young police officer won’t even know that the statues that protect workers are criminal statues and they have every right to enforce them. There have been long conversations in New Haven and other cities about what is the role of police. Police have a lot of important priorities, but this should be one of them.”

A Long-Term Quest

When asked how the legislation might go over with her Republican colleagues, DeLauro expressed skepticism.

“I’ll be frank, I don’t believe they will” support it, she said. “I’m in Congress with people every day who want to get rid of the prevailing wage [protected wages for laborers, often on government-funded work]. If I had to wait to introduce legislation that would get all of their support, I could never introduce any legislation, because some of these issues they’re not going to be in support of, not in the current climate. You introduce legislation because nothing stays static. Things change.”

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posted by: fearless on April 6, 2016  9:01am

Why was Lugo arrested?  A complaint can be investigated and result in calming down those protesting and settle the dispute with both the customer who complained. Was it a customer or the owners who made the complaint.  Cops were restrained and appropriate.  except for the arrest.  Looks like a scam to me with the owners using the cops to shut up people not getting paid.  These are the same cops who go ticket crazy when their contract negotiations stall and block traffic downtown and cover each other’s asses when the blue wall of silence rears its ugly head.  DiLauro. Do something besides photo opps.

posted by: wendy1 on April 6, 2016  9:05am

Too little, too late.  Rosa, who has 24 mill, would be better off paying these two men herself.  Congress is useless ,  a collection of stale, ugly old men and women mostly, a dysfunctional band of bought off sellouts.

You can see the lack of hope in the faces pictured here.

By the way,  I gave Legal Aid Assist people $100,000 because them I support, not politicians.

John Lugo should have come to me.

posted by: fearless on April 6, 2016  9:31am

Wendy. Why don’t you go to Mr Lugo?

posted by: Noteworthy on April 6, 2016  10:56am

Contrarian View Notes:

1. The new law DeLauro proposes puts zero responsibility on the illegal immigrant. That employee is not responsible for keeping records, notes, emails or any corroborative information.

2. To make an allegation of criminal theft of wages takes nothing but a press conference and legal aide. It is not right to expect the police to make arrests with no evidence or worse, to be forced to investigate that which they are ill equipped to do. There are other agencies who have that expertise and if the “crime” is serious enough, there likely would be a criminal referral prompting the cops to act.

3. Lugo was arrested because he was disturbing the peace of patrons at Goodfella’s where he alleges wages were improperly paid. The case drags on. I get that he’s frustrated with that, but that doesn’t mean you can disturb others with your vocal protest. You can boycott all you want and you can picket. But you can’t impede access or egress or disturb people in the process. I know Lugo doesn’t have respect for our laws per se, unless they are being used to put more money in his pocket but he should consider them.

4. Recommendation to every employer: Do not hire illegal immigrants. You are asking for trouble. Hiring them in and of itself is illegal and there are far too many pitfalls and potential for real or imagined misunderstandings and temptations to make this worthwhile. There are also plenty of folks with green cards, documentation or those who are Americans already who need jobs to go down this road.

posted by: ILivehere on April 6, 2016  11:54am

Hear that? Its the sound of more jobs heading to Mexico. Why would anyone even if they are completely honest in there payroll and accounting want to subject themselves to even the possibility of an employee lying and dragging them through the mud with laws like these.

posted by: fearless on April 6, 2016  1:09pm

Notes. Lugo was arrested,according to the video, for using the bullhorn, not blocking access.  Again, who made the complaint?  The law abiding owners of “Goodfellas” ? Many workers have been stiffed by the law abiding owners of “Goodfellas”. Nobody knows if patrons made a complaint. What we know is the Police answered a complaint and stopped citizens from protesting getting screwed   “I know Lugo doesn’t have any respect for our laws per se, unless they are putting money in his pocket”.  This is a garbage agenda full of discriminating vile bigotry.  The comment should be removed from a civilized news outlet. I personally know young white college students where I teach who are owed money from Notes buddies at “Goodfellas” who were at this incident Notes.  Do all of them have no respect for the law because your buddies screw them out of earned wages?  The White ones?  Or just the brown ones?  Notes buddies at the law abiding “Goodfellas” are responsible for the protests. Hey Notes. what would you do if you were screwed out of earned wages?  Lugo is trying to work with the police to charge these businesses. Does that disrespect the law?

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on April 6, 2016  1:49pm

“There are about 1,000 federal inspectors enforcing wage and hours laws for the entire country; state labor departments don’t have many more resources.” So then how is this law going to make a bit of difference?! “These are criminal statutes…The federal statue has a very, very weak criminal provision. The state provision is not very, very weak, but police departments don’t have it in their charge books.” So obviously the place to begin is to inform police chiefs that this is a criminal offence—and they need to inform their officers accordingly. We don’t need more laws; we need to enforce laws we have.
DeLauro: “some of these issues they’re not going to be in support of, not in the current climate.” That’s partly because this is a pointless law that duplicates and complicates laws we already have. It’s also because of the hyper-partisan atmosphere in Congress. The ONLY way to fix this is a constitutional amendment imposing term limits. Both the Democrat and Republican parties have one priority: self-preservation. And that priority—self-preservation—is the same for any congressional incumbent.

posted by: MichaelBoyle on April 6, 2016  6:54pm

Most Americans don’t take—or quickly leave—jobs where employers will stiff them, illegally treat them as subcontractors when they are really employees, not pay them overtime etc. So immigrants or very poor Americans, who have fewer options. take them. And since they get paid cash or at best with a business check, it is very hard to document a wage and hour complaint well enough for the Labor Department to pursue it. Employers face little risk because only if someone comes with a bullhorn to protest do they run the risk of having to pay. In the last thirty years in New Haven that has been limited to Unidad Latina protests and Local 217 picketing outside Leon’s Restaurant when it was still in the Hill. Even where there are protests, many customers keep patronizing businesses that cheat. Although walking a few blocks to a new restaurant is not that hard, many people don’t care. Give Rosa a little credit for at least choosing to do this photo op than some other one. She is not getting campaign contributions or votes from most of these workers.
Why do workers’ civil immigration violations (entering without inspection, overstaying, working without authorization) worry some commenters more than the employers’ criminal immigration and wage theft violations? The balance should go the other way.