Julie Su wants to be the nation’s top cop on wage theft, and she means that quite literally.
Su, President Joe Biden’s nominee to be the Secretary of Labor, believes that allegations of not paying workers what they are due are so serious that the accused—business owners—should be put in handcuffs.
As the head of the California Labor Department under Gov. Gavin Newsom, Su created the state agency’s first-ever criminal investigations unit. Su vowed that the unit would go after those “who underpay, underbid and under-report in violation of the law.” And the wage theft police were born.
“When we first implemented the unit, newspaper headlines warned of armed Labor Commissioner deputies coming to get employers in California and arrest them for crimes. And, well, we are!” Su boasted in a 2015 lecture. “We have filed over a dozen felony wage-theft cases with district attorneys across the state and we have had employers arrested and thrown in jail for the wage theft they committed.”
“Wage theft” is a catch-all term for not paying workers what they are owed under the law, such as violating minimum wage or overtime regulations. It is a crime under the Fair Labor Standards Act and is enforced by the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division. It can involve business owners sneakily ripping off employees. It can also result from honest confusion or mistakes regarding what is owed.
There is substantial confusion in employee/management relations about what workplace practices constitute theft, notes Saba Waheed, the research director at UCLA’s Labor Center. “There’s like a level of informality. It’s so normalized that even viewing it as some kind of theft would be such a surprise to folks,” Waheed says.
Read the full article at Reason.