An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. It has been a maxim of American life for as long as this nation has existed. Yet for many in this country, the wages they have rightfully earned for their hard work are fraudulently kept back by their employers. This is even more likely for immigrants than for other workers for a number of reasons. Wage theft is a tragic problem for far too many hard-working people in our nation.
If someone stole your wallet or purse, you would at least be unlikely to have the same person steal from you again tomorrow. Wage theft, however, occurs daily to many workers in America. Wage theft occurs when workers are not paid for all their time working, not paid overtime, or not paid according to minimum wage laws. This illegal practice reportedly costs workers billions of dollars every year. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of minimum wage violations occur to those who are already in some of the lowest income brackets, including immigrants who are disproportionately affected by wage theft.
Wage theft is particularly likely to occur if you work piece rate, or do any off the book work for an employer. Frequently, workers are forced to begin work before clocking in, or keep working for some time after clocking out. Being forced to work through meal times or other breaks is also wage theft, and accounts for many hours of unpaid work for employees each year.
It is likely that since your very first job in high school, you have been aware of minimum wage requirements, the requirements for paid overtime, and other regulations that employers are required to follow. Many immigrants, however, are unaware of the laws protecting their wage rights, and may believe that what is happening to them is just the way things are. Educating immigrants on wage laws and their rights as employees takes time, and many immigrants have not yet realized that what is happening to them is actually prohibited by law.
Additionally, even when someone does realize what is happening is illegal, they may hesitate to speak up. Workers making even the slightest protest about wages are often fired on the spot. There are many stories of the employer calling authorities to make false accusations against the worker who raised the subject of unfair pay.
Many immigrants already work low paying jobs that are very demanding physically and mentally. Their families depend on the income they earn, and because of wage theft, their jobs are more likely to negatively affect family needs like food and parental supervision.
The wage theft crisis is a grave injustice. If allowed to continue unchallenged, employers are more likely to take advantage of more employees and in more egregious ways. Wage theft affects immigrants more than the rest of us, but its continuation should concern us all.