Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters; iStock

Unpaid Wages: A Waiting Game

Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters; iStock

California has a wage theft problem, experts say — particularly among its immigrant, minority and least educated workers. Many of them are struggling just to be paid every dollar they earn. Last year nearly 19,000 workers filed claims with the state alleging wage theft by their employers.

Some said their bosses didn’t pay them for all the hours they worked or didn’t pay the minimum wage. Some said their bosses didn’t pay them for working overtime or failed to follow state and federal laws regarding breaks and off-the-clock times. Some said employers illegally took money from their paychecks or failed to properly keep time and pay records.

However it happened, California workers claimed at least $338 million in lost or stolen wages last year, which was slightly more than annual averages in recent years. Even when the state cracks down, it can take years for some workers to get paid, if they get paid. The state regularly breaks its own laws, violating its own deadlines for resolving cases.

Major business groups say that wage theft affects only a small portion of businesses. But state regulators list a variety of industries where the practice is problematic – from construction to the garment industry to food and agriculture to maintenance and security. State lawmakers have passed laws to toughen regulations to combat wage theft.

CalMatters’ California Divide team is examining how effectively those laws are being enforced, and their impact on workers and their bosses.