On the wage theft beat

Shortchanged: An in-depth look at wage theft

APRIL 19, 2016

If labor activists have turned up the volume on the discussion around wage theft, that’s a good thing, said John Aiken, director of the Apprenticeship and Labor Standards Division of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, the state agency that investigates worker complaints.

“What that is doing is raising the profile of this issue and, hopefully as one of the consequences of this, is driving people to this office to seek the assistance that they deserve,” Aiken said.

The department receives more than 20,000 inquiries each year. While some of the phone calls and emails concern child labor laws, the majority of complaints fall into the category of illegal activity commonly known as “wage theft,” including workers who never received a final paycheck from a previous employer, weren’t paid overtime or had illegal deductions taken out of their wages.

The increased attention being paid to wage theft has thrown a spotlight on the laws that are meant to protect workers, employers who seem to flout the rules and the resources that are available to go after lawbreakers. Both state agencies and their federal counterparts at the U.S. Department of Labor are noticing.
“As a person who does law enforcement, I would always like a bigger staff,” David King, district director for the federal Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division office in Minneapolis, said. “We could always find work for people to do. There’s lots of things that can be done to help protect workers. That’s just a reality.

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