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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California
Southern California

LA Workers Celebrate Passage Of The Fair Day's Pay Act

New law gives low-wage workers hope for return of stolen wages.

Cleaning airplanes is an arduous task, only made more difficult when you are not getting paid for it. Most days, Elsa Castaneda a mother of four, puts in eight to ten hours as an airplane cleaner at LAX, but has yet to see her paycheck reflect her timesheet. 

 Often times she is paid for only six to eight hours of work. Over the past two years, the company she works for has withheld around seven thousand dollars of her earnings. 

 “I’m a victim of wage theft because the company wouldn’t give us all our hours that we worked at the airport and they also wouldn’t give us breaks or lunch periods,” Castaneda says. 

 Now she is working with a community organization to try and recover some of that money. Until last week, it was unlikely Castaneda would ever see any of her money. But, with the passing of SB 588 Wage Theft Prevention by Governor Jerry Brown, Castaneda like thousands of other low-wage workers in Los Angeles, have hope they will soon see some of their stolen wages. 

Wage theft victim, Elsa Castaneda, is very happy about the passage of the law.
Wage theft victim, Elsa Castaneda, is very happy about the passage of the law.

 “It is going to affect every worker who has been robbed of any wages,” Lilia Garcia-Bower, Executive Director of the Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund says. “This is the most aggressive wage theft defense legislation in the history of California.” 

 With 26.2 million dollars stolen weekly from low-wage workers, Los Angeles serves as the current wage theft capital of the United States. Often times employers guilty of wage theft will violate minimum wage laws, refuse to pay overtime, force workers to work off the clock and deny meal or rest breaks among others or even disappear. 

 Common targets for wage theft include women, immigrants and people of color, but have a far greater impact than just on these victims. Wage theft creates inequality amongst businesses and helps perpetuate poverty. That is part of the reason why the California legislature passed SB 588 according to California Senator Kevin de Leon.

 Despite the fact that California has the seventh largest economy in the world (not just the U.S.) and an estimated GDP of 2.2 trillion dollars, it is still plagued with poverty and homelessness. Wage theft keeps low-income workers in poverty and puts them at a greater risk for homelessness.

Isla Lopez, a garment worker in Los Angeles, was working at a factory for two years and was a victim of wage theft. She and her co-workers (a total of 70 workers) went and put their claims through to the Department of Labor, but faced many obstacles in recovering the wages they were owed.

 “During that time, no tool existed for us to keep on fighting for the wages that we were owed, our employer disappeared in the middle of the night and we weren’t able to collect those wages. This had a great negative effect on my health and I had to use up all of my life’s savings which to this day I have not been able to recover,” Lopez said.

A worker helps rally the supporters at the celebration of the Fair Day's Pay Act.
A worker helps rally the supporters at the celebration of the Fair Day's Pay Act.

SB 588 is a strong labor law mostly because it gives the Labor Commissioner the tools to collect stolen wages from employers who have gone through judgments. It also creates accountability amongst individual businesses for their debts to workers.

“We still need to neutralize the socio-economic barriers that stop workers from coming forward and who are vulnerable to poverty, immigration standard, and of gender discrimination,” Garcia-Bower said. “Then I believe that we will have the most secure workplaces for workers in California.”

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