Los Angeles Business Journal

Council to Consider Criminalizing Wage Theft

By Howard Fine Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Two Los Angeles city councilmen on Tuesday called for a crackdown on employers who do not pay their workers the proper amount of wages.

The motion put forward by Councilmen Gilbert Cedillo and Paul Koretz would criminalize penalties for employers found guilty of cheating workers out of pay, commonly referred to as wage theft.

Currently, state and federal agencies have the power to levy fines against violators and order restitution. The Cedillo-Koretz motion would allow cases to be referred to the City Attorney for prosecution on misdemeanor charges; if found guilty, the violator could face stiff fines and up to six months in jail.

A coalition of unions, workers’ rights advocates and progressive groups sponsored the motion. They point to studies saying that up to 80 percent of low-wage workers in Los Angeles do not receive all the pay they should. One study indicated that more than 60 percent of garment workers do not receive the state-mandated minimum wage.

“Los Angeles has the highest rate of wage theft in the country – nearly 80 percent of low-wage workers in L.A. experience wage theft,” Koretz said. “This is a major problem for Los Angeles workers.”

Koretz co-authored a nearly identical motion five years ago. Current City Attorney Mike Feuer said during his campaign last year that he would make this issue a priority.

Other major cities, including Chicago, Houston, San Francisco and Seattle, already have criminalized wage theft. Locally, the city of Long Beach is weighing a similar proposal.