Three Democratic lawmakers introduced a proposal into the U.S. Congress today to give teeth to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in the fight against wage theft.
The Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act moves the fight into Congress that we have seen across the country against employers failing to pay workers according to the law. Under the proposed law (according to news articles), an employer failing to pay a worker under the law would owe them damages of triple the entire hourly rate owed to the worker and a statutory civil penalty of $2,000 for first time violators and higher for repeat offenders. Currently, the FLSA requires an employer who hasn’t paid their workers appropriately to pay double the difference between the required rate and the rate actually paid.
Wage theft has become a huge problem across the country. A report issued last year concerning unpaid wages in Pennsylvania identified millions in estimated losses by workers each week across Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia.
In the court system, the battle has so far been fought by the Labor Department and employment lawyers on behalf of aggrieved workers. In 2015, there was a “tidal wave” of wage and hour lawsuits, according to the 12th Annual Workplace Class Action Litigation Report by Seyfarth Shaw. They aren’t expected to slow anytime soon.
In the court of public opinion, numerous organizations have sought to stem the problem of insufficient wages by pushing for a higher minimum wage for workers. This movement has achieved success in several cities and smaller victories in several states and large businesses. But without strong potential damages ensuring compliance, the victories could ring hollow.
It is time for Congress to take up the act. The legislation is unlikely to gain support under a Republican controlled Congress. We would need to see a Democratic win in the 2016 Presidential election as well as the addition of 4 or 5 seats in the Senate and 30 in the House. There are enough races up in the air that the Democrats might be able to take control of the Senate, but the Democrats would need a big victory to gain the seats they need in the House. In reality, Republicans should support this legislation because it ensures that businesses complying with the law aren’t punished because they do so.
The bill was sponsored by Senators Patty Murray and Sherrod Brown in the Senate and Representative Rosa DeLauro in the House.