Chicago City Council Unanimously Passes Strong Anti-Wage Theft Ordinance

Jan 18, 2013

By Liz Ben-Ishai

Workers deserve to be assured they will be paid for the hours they work – this basic proposition seems obvious to most of us.  Yet, for millions of workers across the country who are victims of wage theft, something that appears to be a question of simple fairness is out of reach. But there is hope for workers in Chicago, where yesterday City Council passed one of the strongest municipal anti-wage theft laws in the country. In a unanimous vote, the Council passed the law, which will allow the City to revoke or deny licenses to employers that steal their workers’ wages.

The new law could bring relief to the many workers in Chicago that experience workplace violations related to wages. A study put out in 2010 by the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) found that nearly half of low-wage front-line workers experienced at least one pay-related violation in the previous work week, losing an average of $2595 annually due to workplace violations, out of total earnings of $16,753.  The study estimated that just in Chicago front-line workers in low-wage industries lose upwards of $7.3 million per week as a result of employment and labor law violations.

The UIC study points to examples of workers being required to work overtime or off-the-clock without pay, being denied meal breaks and their own tips, or simply never receiving pay for hours that they have worked. As a result of wage theft, workers can’t afford to pay their bills and support their families.

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