FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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 How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 27, 2017
Anthony DiMaggio
Media Ban! Making Sense of the War Between Trump and the Press
Dave Lindorff
Resume Inflation at the NSC: Lt. General McMaster’s Silver Star Was Essentially Earned for Target Practice
Conn Hallinan
Is Trump Moderating US Foreign Policy? Hardly
Norman Pollack
Political Castration of State: Militarization of Government
Kenneth Surin
Inside Dharavi, a Mumbai Slum
Lawrence Davidson
Truth vs. Trump
Binoy Kampmark
The Extradition Saga of Kim Dotcom
Robert Fisk
Why a Victory Over ISIS in Mosul Might Spell Defeat in Deir Ezzor
David Swanson
Open Guantanamo!
Ted Rall
The Republicans May Impeach Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Why Should Trump―or Anyone―Be Able to Launch a Nuclear War?
Andrew Stewart
Down with Obamacare, Up with Single Payer!
Colin Todhunter
Message to John Beddington and the Oxford Martin Commission
David Macaray
UFOs: The Myth That Won’t Die?
Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail