Working people have millions of dollars stolen from them every day. If it were done at gunpoint, the thefts would make headlines. But because the losses occur at work – and are not regarded as criminal – few people know what is happening to them.
Every day, victims of wage theft reach out to worker centers across Minnesota for help. These groups are playing a critical role in raising awareness of wage theft, organizing workers to address the problem and, in some cases, recovering stolen wages.
Over the last five years, numerous Minnesota farms have been investigated for wage theft, much of it involving failure to pay overtime. But advocates believe the problem is much worse than the records indicate.
Robin Pikala became the face of wage theft in Minnesota when she spoke at a news conference at the state Capitol a year ago. She was one of 800 workers owed a total of $1.4 million by Crystal Care, one of the state’s largest home health care agencies.
A joint effort between contractors and building trades unions has led to stronger enforcement of state laws on public construction – making a big dent in cheating and recovering nearly $1 million in stolen wages and benefits.
The field of personnel economics is crowded with academic studies on how employers can screen workers and avoid hiring bad employees, but little work has been done on how workers can do the same with employers.
Simply passing more laws will not stop wage theft. This complex problem requires a network of solutions, including greater education on workplace rights, more organizing by workers themselves and improved government enforcement.