Wage Theft

by

Just when we thought things couldn’t get much worse—with corporations boldly resorting to economic blackmail, jobs being sent to low-wage countries, labor unions being marginalized and demonized, and school teachers being treated as America’s new “enemy”—we learn that business owners are victimizing workers at the low end of the wage curve, precisely the people who can least afford to be cheated.

Also, it’s happening right in my own backyard. According to Tia Koonse of the UCLA Labor Center, “Los Angeles is really the wage theft capital of the country.” Of course, this isn’t because LA is “evil,” or is populated by an inordinate number of greedy bastards or outright thieves (unless you include Hollywood), but rather because it’s home to the greatest concentration of Latino workers, both legal and undocumented.

Southern California restaurants and carwashes are where you will find the most cases of wage theft. Knowing that the majority of their workers either won’t or can’t report the violations to state authorities, the owners of these businesses behave as if they’ve been given a license to steal.

And it’s not as if there aren’t statutes on the books covering this stuff, because there are. Every one of these violations is prohibited by law. Moreover, it’s not a matter of these businesses poring over the existing laws, looking for exemptions—the way Wall Street bankers pore over SEC regulations, looking for (and always finding) loopholes. These businesses don’t bother with any of that legalistic finesse. This is outright theft.

One hears it said that because the owners of these carwashes are Mexicans—as are the employees (“carwasheros”)—it’s none of our (Anglo) business. If these rats are going to victimize “their own kind,” there’s not much we can do about it. That argument is not only dumb, it’s dangerous. Take the early Mafia in the U.S. These were Sicilians who terrorized decent Sicilian and Italian immigrants. What does common nationality have to do with the violation of well-intentioned laws?

Wage theft comes in several forms—everything from your basic refusal to pay minimum wage, to not paying for every hour worked, to using the old tried-and-true method of forcing employees to pay for equipment or training. One trick is to charge exorbitant fees for uniforms. That couldn’t happen in a union shop. If uniforms are mandatory, the union makes sure the company provides them. (Oh, wait….I forgot. Unions are now characterized as “unnecessary.”)

In truth, even though wage theft in the U.S. mainly affects Latino immigrants, it’s got little to do with national origins. As any freelance writer will tell you, this is purely an economic phenomenon….one of those ineluctable “supply and demand” arrangements.

Roughly a decade ago I sold a couple of op-ed pieces to the LA Times. We agreed on a price for each ($300), they sent me a contract, I signed it, they published the articles. The entire experience was quite pleasant. The articles (700 words) were no-sweat to write, and the editor with whom I dealt was the model of professionalism. We spoke on the phone, she asked me a question about the statistics I cited, and that was it.

A year later, I submitted an op-ed to another newspaper. I won’t name the paper, but it has one of the largest circulations in the country. Because the subject matter was timely, they wanted to run it within the next day or two. The editor asked how much the LA Times had paid me for my earlier op-eds. I told him it was $300. He said that was fine, that they would also pay $300.

I received a check for $150. That bothered me. But with so many writers out there looking to be published, and so few outlets available, I had the distressing feeling that this was one of those “take it or leave it” deals, not unlike the unhappy dilemma facing LA’s carwasheros. What are those poor guys expected to do? Not work?

David Macaray is a labor columnist and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor, 2nd Edition). dmacaray@earthlink.net

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
July 28, 2015
Mark Schuller
Humanitarian Occupation of Haiti: 100 Years and Counting
Lawrence Ware
Why the “Black Church” Doesn’t Exist–and Never Has
Peter Makhlouf
Israel and Gaza: the BDS Movement One Year After “Protective Edge”
Eric Draitser
China’s NGO Law: Countering Western Soft Power and Subversion
Paul Craig Roberts - Dave Kranzler
Supply and Demand in the Gold and Silver Futures Markets
Carl Finamore
Landlords Behaving Badly: San Francisco Too Valuable for Poor People*
Michael P. Bradley
Educating About Islam: Problems of Selectivity and Imbalance
Binoy Kampmark
Ransacking Malaysia: the Najib Corruption Dossier
Michael Avender - Medea Benjamin
El Salvador’s Draconian Abortion Laws: a Miscarriage of Justice
Jesse Jackson
Sandra Bland’s Only Crime Was Driving While Black
Cesar Chelala
Effect of Greece’s Economic Crisis on Public Health
Mel Gurtov
Netanyahu: An Enemy of Peace
Joseph G. Ramsey
The Limits of Optimism: E.L. Doctorow and the American Left
George Wuerthner
Bark Beetles and Forest Fires: Another Myth Goes Up in Smoke
Harvey Wasserman
Will Ohio Gov. Kasich’s Anti-Green Resume Kill His Presidential Hopes?
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, Episode 4, a Bowery Ballroom Blitz
July 27, 2015
Susan Babbitt
Thawing Relations: Cuba’s Deeper (More Challenging) Significance
Howard Lisnoff
Bernie Sanders: Savior or Seducer of the Anti-War Left?
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma’s Profiteers: You Want Us to Pay What for These Meds?
John Halle
On Berniebots and Hillary Hacks, Dean Screams, Swiftboating and Smears
Stephen Lendman
Cleveland Police Attack Black Activists
Joshua Sperber
What is a President? The CEO of Capitalism
Patrick Cockburn
Only Iraq’s Clerics Can Defeat ISIS
Ralph Nader
Sending a ‘Citizens Summons’ to Members of Congress
Clancy Sigal
Scratch That Itch: Hillary and The Donald
Colin Todhunter
Working Class War Fodder
Gareth Porter
Obama’s Version of Iran Nuke Deal: a Second False Narrative
Zoe Konstantopoulou
The Politics of Coercion in Greece
Vacy Vlanza
Without BDS, Palestine is Alone
Laura Finley
Adjunct Professors and Worker’s Rights
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, Episode Three, Where We Thrill Everyone by Playing Like “Utter Bloody Garbage”
Weekend Edition
July 24-26, 2015
Mike Whitney
Picked Out a Coffin Yet? Take Ibuprofen and Die
Henry Giroux
America’s New Brutalism: the Death of Sandra Bland
Rob Urie
Capitalism, Engineered Dependencies and the Eurozone
Michael Lanigan
Lynn’s Story: an Irish Woman in Search of an Abortion
Paul Street
Deleting Crimes at the New York Times: Airbrushing History at the Paper of Record
ISMAEL HOSSEIN-ZADEH
Making Sense of the Iran Nuclear Deal: Geopolitical Implications
Andrew Levine
After the Iran Deal: Israel is Down But Far From Out
Uri Avnery
Sheldon’s Stooges: Netanyahu and the King of Vegas
David Swanson
George Clooney Paid by War Profiteers
ANDRE VLTCHEK
They Say Paraguay is in Africa: Mosaic of Horror
Horace G. Campbell
Obama in Kenya: Will He Cater to the Barons or the People?
Michael Welton
Surviving Together: Canadian Public Tradition Under Threat
Rev. William Alberts
American Imperialism’s Military Chaplains
Yorgos Mitralias
Black Days: August 4th,1914 Germany and July 13th, 2015 Greece