Lawmakers in California passed a bill in 2022 that makes it easier for authorities to prosecute employers for wage theft, but it does not seem to have made much of a difference. The San Diego Labor Commissioner’s Office received almost 15,000 wage theft claims between 2018 and 2022, but just 4% of them have been paid off according to records from the Department of Industrial Relations. This is because workers who hope to collect stolen wages are given very little help from officials. Instead, they are expected to do most of the work themselves.
A laborious process
Recovering unpaid wages is a laborious process that can take months or years even when courts order employers to pay. The DIR provides legal assistance to help workers pursue employers that owe them unpaid wages, but very few qualify for it. Most workers are left to fend for themselves, which means they have to pay investigators or attorneys to track down the money they are owed. There is a single nonprofit group in San Diego County that offers services to wage theft victims, but it lacks resources and has to turn many workers who need help away.
Officials take action
The San Diego Board of Supervisors has taken steps in recent years to help workers resolve wage and hour issues. In 2021, the board created an office that administers a fund to help workers who are owed wages. The Office of Labor Standards and Enforcement, which is still not fully operational, can also penalize employers by denying them contracts and rejecting their permit applications.
A persistent problem
Workers who are denied wages or overtime pay often do not earn very much, which means they rarely have the means to pay investigators or lawyers to help them recover the money they are owed. Wage theft is a persistent problem in California, and officials in San Diego County should be applauded for taking it seriously.