New Minnesota Law Protects Workers from Wage Theft

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a member of the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party, signed into a law last week a measure to protect workers against wage theft in the state by imposing strict penalties.

The law will double the number of state investigators probing wage-theft allegations and subject violators to felony records and prison terms.

The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry estimates that $12 million is lost yearly as a result of wage theft. Wage theft can occur through wrongful withholdings, failure to pay at least minimum wage or the agreed upon wage rate, and denying payment for mandatory breaks or overtime.

“This is the same thing as if they walked in and took the money from you,” Walz said after the signing. “It’s insidious in that it undermines our faith in the system.”

Employers now face felony charges if they fail to pay their workers the wages to which they are entitled. They will also be required to provide new employees with written notice of employment terms, and the state will allocate about $2 million annually toward enforcement of the state’s wage and hour laws.

Under this law, which will apply to violations occurring on or after Aug. 1, 2019, the penalties will vary based on the value of the theft. For example, if the amount of theft ranges from $1,000-4,999, the penalty could be a maximum imprisonment of five years, or a maximum fine of $10,000. If the theft is $35,000 or higher, the maximum imprisonment could be 20 years – and the maximum fine could be $100,000.

The state of Colorado has also increased penalties under the Human Right to Work With Dignity Act. Signed by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, the new law deems nonpayment as theft punishable as felony when the stolen amount exceeds $2,000.

Minnesota State Sen. Eric Pratt told the Star Tribune that the agreement on wage-theft protections in Minnesota was a bipartisan effort to put political differences aside and prioritize the needs of working Minnesotans. While he alluded to the possibility of putting more money towards wage-theft investigations in the future, he said he hopes this new law will prevent business owners from stealing wages in the first place.

“We agreed on a core value: If you earn a wage, you should be paid a wage. It’s that simple,” Pratt said. “And if you’re stealing somebody’s wages, if you’re attempting to defraud somebody, you should pay a penalty.”

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Posted In: Union Matters

Union Matters

The Big Drip

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities. 

A rash of water main breaks in West Berkeley, Calif., and neighboring cities last month flooded streets and left at least 300 residents without water. Routine pressure adjustments in response to water demand likely caused more than a dozen pipes, some made of clay and more than 100 years old, to rupture.

West Berkeley’s brittle mains are not unique. Decades of neglect left aging pipes susceptible to breaks in communities across the U.S., wasting two trillion gallons of treated water each year as these systems near collapse.

Comprehensive upgrades to the nation’s crumbling water systems would stanch the flow and ensure all Americans have reliable access to clean water.

Nationwide, water main breaks increased 27 percent between 2012 and 2018, according to a Utah State University study.  

These breaks not only lead to service disruptions  but also flood out roads, topple trees and cause illness when drinking water becomes contaminated with bacteria.

The American Water Works Association estimated it will cost at least $1 trillion over the next 25 years to upgrade and expand water infrastructure.

Some local water utilities raised their rates to pay for system improvements, but that just hurts poor consumers who can’t pay the higher bills.

And while Congress allocates money for loans that utilities can use to fix portions of their deteriorating systems, that’s merely a drop in the bucket—a fraction of what agencies need for lasting improvements.

America can no longer afford a piecemeal approach to a systemic nationwide crisis. A major, sustained federal commitment to fixing aging pipes and treatment plants would create millions of construction-related jobs while ensuring all Americans have safe, affordable drinking water.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work