New York’s prevailing wage law

A cost-benefit analysis

(A working paper from the Economic Policy Institute)

By Russell Ormiston, Dale Belman, and Matt Hinkel
November 1, 2017

The cost of state prevailing wage laws has been a considerable focus of independent, academic economists over the last 15 years. In study after study, the results demonstrate a clear consensus: state prevailing wage laws have not been shown to increase taxpayer costs on the biggest components of state construction budgets (roads and schools). If this seems counterintuitive, consider that high-wage contractors employ the most skilled and most productive workers and use the industry’s most advanced technology and equipment; this allows them to place bids on public construction projects that are competitive with-if not better than-those of low-wage, low-skill contractors. Essentially, state lawmakers “get what they pay for” when it comes to hiring contractors and workers to build public construction projects.

There is another fundamental problem with the current narrative on state prevailing wage laws: it entirely ignores the many benefits that the law provides a state’s residents and communities. In a time when economic opportunities for blue-collar workers are slipping away-devastating families and communities-prevailing wage laws are one of the few effective policies available to state lawmakers that increase the standard of living for these workers, incentivize employers to provide opportunities for training and skill development, and offer a clear pathway to the middle class for non-college educated state residents. Prevailing wage laws also advantage in-state and law-abiding contractors, reduce illegal employment practices, and improve workplace safety for a state’s residents. Any public discussion about state prevailing wage laws that ignores the benefits of the policy does an incredible disservice to a state’s workers, families, and communities.

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(PDF Copy of Report)

House, Senate Democrats Move to Prevent Wage Theft (MI)

Hardworking men and women deserve full amount they’ve earned

Monday, October 30, 2017

LANSING – House and Senate Democrats announced their plan to Prevent Wage Theft today to make sure workers get what they’ve earned. A report from the Economic Policy Institute earlier this year found that Michigan workers across all demographic groups are losing $429 million every year as a result of wage theft. It’s been almost 40 years since Michigan updated many of the state’s laws to protect workers’ pay.

“When we’re talking about nearly half a billion dollars being taken from workers’ paychecks illegally, it’s clear the system is broken,” said state SenatorJim Ananich (D-Flint). “These folks are playing by the rules and trying to provide for themselves and their families. We need to do right by them and bring our laws into the 21st century.”

Data from the EPI report show that 17 percent of low-wage workers in Michigan have experienced wage theft, which includes paying less than minimum wage, failing to pay overtime, working off the clock, confiscating tips, misclassifying employees as independent contractors, or even failing to pay workers at all. Earlier this year, FOX 17 reported the story of 24 West Michigan carpenters who hadn’t been paid $35,000 that a construction company owed them. They had bank accounts frozen, couldn’t afford family medical expenses and even lost their cars.

In addition to holding back Michigan’s workers and its economy by keeping hundreds of millions of dollars out of pocketbooks around the state, law-abiding businesses are at a disadvantage to the bad actors who increase their profits by stealing from their employees.

“When Michigan’s workers do better, our whole state benefits. Sadly, a handful of bad actors are holding us back to the tune of nearly half a billion dollars per year and our state isn’t doing enough to help,” said House Democratic Leader Sam Singh (D-East Lansing). “Democrats are stepping up to ensure that hardworking Michigan workers get what they earn and that everyone plays by the same rules.”

(Read More)

Federal lawmakers seek to crack down on wage theft

By Mark Gruenberg, Press Associates Union News Service
August 20, 2017


Saying too many bosses steal workers’ wages, congressional Democrats introduced legislation to crack down on wage theft, through stiff fines, enabling worker class action suits, and, in the worst cases, threats of criminal prosecution.

The measure is designed to particularly help low-wage workers, the lawmakers said. But overall, citing Economic Policy Institute data, they said employers steal at least $15 billion yearly from workers.

“Today, across the country, many people are putting in long hours on the job and working hard for an honest day’s pay, only to have their employers cheat them out of their wages,” said Senate co-sponsor Ed Markey, D-Mass.

“While the vast majority of employers do the right thing and treat workers fairly, too many others force their workers to work off the clock, refuse to pay workers the minimum wage, deny workers overtime pay even after they work more than 40 hours a week, steal workers’ tips, or knowingly misclassify workers to avoid paying fair wages.

“This bill will strengthen fundamental protections to allow workers to get the money they have earned through hard work and it will crack down on the corporations that subject workers to these abuses. These steps will help ensure our country can work for all Americans, not just the wealthiest few, so our economy grows from the middle out, not the top down,” he added.

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DeLauro Introduces Bill to Stop Wage Theft, Boost Workers’ Financial Security

August 7, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC (August 7, 2017) – Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-03), along with U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Al Franken (D-MN), and Congressman Bobby Scott (VA-03), introduced the Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act to crack down on employers who unfairly withhold wages from their employees. This bill would give workers the right to receive full compensation for all of the work they perform, as well as the right to receive regular paystubs and final paychecks in a timely manner. It would also provide workers with improved tools to recover their stolen wages in court and make assistance available to build community partnerships that enhance the enforcement of and improve compliance with wage and hour laws.

“The biggest economic challenge facing our country is that too many people are in jobs that do not pay them enough to live on. Across the country, some workers are putting in long hours and working for an honest day’s pay, only to have their employers cheat them out of their hard-earned wages. Wage theft is inexcusable and unconscionable, and our federal laws should hold employers who violate their employee’s right accountable,” said Congresswoman DeLauro. “The Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act is comprehensive legislation that will strengthen current federal law and empower employees to recover their lost wages. Whether it is compensation for a day’s work, or overtime, employees should be paid what they earn. This legislation not only protects workers, but it will help our economy grow.”

In May, the Economic Policy Institute published a new report finding that employers steal more than an estimated $15 billion from workers each year, with workers in low-wage industries at the greatest risk. A National Employment Law Project 2008 survey of 4,387 low-wage workers in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago found that low-wage workers experienced a range of wage and hour violations, with women, immigrants and minorities being disproportionately affected. Common examples of wage theft include forcing workers to work off the clock, refusing to pay the minimum wage, denying overtime pay to workers even after they work more than 40 hours a week, stealing workers’ tips, or knowingly misclassifying workers to avoid paying fair wages.

(Read More)

In this economy, Latinos are most frequent victims of wage theft

October 27, 2016, 08:01 am
By Paco Fabián, contributor

Wage theft is epidemic and it hits Latino workers the hardest. A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute found that wage theft across America is costing workers $50 billion per year. Compare that to the robberies, burglaries, larcenies, and motor vehicle thefts in the FBI’s uniform crime report, which cost victims an estimated $14 billion over the same period, and you can see that calling wage theft an epidemic is no exaggeration.

Paying workers below the legal minimum wage, not paying for overtime hours worked, forcing workers to work off-the-clock or, for workers on federal contracts, not paying the proper wage rate for their occupation, are just some of the sleights-of -hand that employers engage in to cheat workers. Although all of these maneuvers are illegal, they are rarely punished.

In a survey conducted of three metropolitan areas with high Latino populations, the largest percentage of workers who suffer minimum wage and overtime law violations are Latinos. And amongst foreign-born Latino workers the problem is even worse.

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Melin Introduces Bill Combating Wage Theft

Costs American Workers $30 Billion Annually 

POSTED: 03:52 PM CST     Feb 11, 2015


ST. PAUL, Minn. – Today Representative Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing), joined by victims of wage theft, announced legislation combating wage theft.

“The American dream is about working hard and pursuing a better life,” said Rep. Melin. “But people across Minnesota are held back by employers who deny overtime pay, refuse to pay employees for the hours worked, or don’t pay minimum wage. This is how wage theft holds back people who are working to make ends meet.”

A report by the Economic Policy Institute shows wage theft costs American workers over $30 billion a year.

In 2012 the FBI reported every robbery, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft cost less than $14 billion.

“The Iron Range was built on immigrate labor over 100 years ago. Wage theft was happening then and it is happening now. That is really unfortunate and disheartening and it is time we fixed the problem.”

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An Epidemic of Wage Theft Is Costing Workers Hundreds of Millions of Dollars a Year

Millions of Americans struggle to get by on low wages, often without any benefits such as paid sick leave, a pension, or even health insurance. Their difficult lives are made immeasurably harder when they do the work they have been hired to do, but their employers refuse to pay, pay for some hours but not others, or fail to pay overtime premiums when employees’ hours exceed 40 in a week.

This failure to pay what workers are legally entitled to can be called wage theft; in essence, it involves employers taking money that belongs to their employees and keeping it for themselves. Amounts that seem small, such as not paying for time spent preparing a work station at the start of a shift, or for cleaning up and closing up at the end of a shift, can add up.  When a worker earns only a minimum wage ($290 for a 40-hour week), shaving a mere half hour a day from the paycheck means a loss of more than $1,400 a year, including overtime premiums. That could be nearly 10 percent of a minimum-wage employee’s annual earnings-the difference between paying the rent and utilities or risking eviction and the loss of gas, water, or electric service.

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(Issue Brief #385 – Download PDF)

Updated Overtime Rules Would Cover 6.1 Million Workers

In March of 2014, President Obama announced that the Department of Labor would adjust the salary threshold that determines which workers are eligible for overtime pay, so that low-paid salaried workers get paid overtime when they work long hours. Currently, salaried workers who earn more than $455 per week ($23,660 per year) may be exempt from being paid time-and-a-half for working more than 40 hours a week. EPI has previously recommended that the salary threshold be increased to $984-equal to its level in 1975, adjusted for inflation.

In Increasing the Overtime Salary Threshold is Family-Friendly Policy, EPI economist Heidi Shierholz examines who would be affected by this rule change and finds that raising the threshold to $984 would make 6.1 million more salaried workers eligible for overtime. In the first demographic breakdown of who would be affected by the rule change, Shierholz finds that an increase of this level would disproportionately help women, blacks, Hispanics, workers under age 35, and workers with lower levels of education. The newly covered workers would be those at the low end of the salary scale, who have limited power to bargain over their wages or hours.

“Raising the salary threshold for overtime will help low-paid managers and professionals, especially women and people of color, who are not being compensated when they work over 40 hours a week,” said Shierholz. “It’s clear that the Department of Labor should raise the threshold to $984, or even higher, so that low-paid white-collar workers are treated fairly.”

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(Copy of Report)

Misclassification Robs Workers of Pay and Benefits, Hurts Honest Companies

News today on the misclassification of construction employees and recent court decisions in Oregon and California that FedEx’s employees are not independent contractors are reminders that misclassification of workers is rampant in this country and that misclassification hurts workers, honest companies, and government at every level.

“Companies have put more and more risk, responsibility, and cost on their employees-requiring employees to pay their own employment taxes, to do without worker’s comp coverage, to pay for their own uniforms, and to rent the tools they need to work,” said EPI’s Vice President Ross Eisenbrey, who has studied misclassification since the 1990’s. “Misclassification robs workers of fair pay and benefits, and contributes to an economy where wages are flat, profits are soaring, and CEOs and top brass get the lion’s share of pay increases. Meanwhile, the companies that do not arrange their business to avoid their employment responsibilities are disadvantaged. It’s not just bad labor practices, it is unfair competition.”

(Read More)

Income inequality is fixable in construction

Across the country, states and localities can respond to the President’s call to action and grow wages, create jobs, and reduce income inequality in at least one sector: the construction industry. Today, the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) is pleased to release a new study co-authored with Professor Robert Bruno, a labor expert at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, on labor market institutions in the construction industry.

The study, Which Labor Market Institutions Reduce Income Inequality? Labor Unions, Prevailing Wage Laws, and Right-to-Work Laws in the Construction Industry, finds that prevailing wage laws did a good job matching common construction rates with the actual market price of labor, increasing worker incomes by just 1.2 percent. On the other hand, they have no negative effect on the total incomes of contractor CEOs. Prevailing wage laws, the data show, reduce income inequality between the highest earners and the lowest earners of the construction industry by 45.1 percent.