“Wage theft happens so often that every time I go out on the job, I wonder if I am even going to get paid.” – Nephi Chynoweth, Austin construction worker
What is wage theft?
- Wage theft occurs when employers fail to pay their workers their promised wages or don’t pay them at all.
- It also includes workers paid less than the legal minimum wage or workers who are being cheated out of overtime pay.
- Wage theft undercuts responsible businesses and hurts working families by forcing them to face unexpected hardships.
How big a problem is wage theft?
- Wage theft is all around us. Millions of workers are robbed each year of a total estimated $35 billion, often forcing them to choose between paying rent or putting food on the table.
- One in five construction workers in Texas has suffered wage theft. (1)
- Nationally, 50% of contingent laborers have experienced wage theft. (2)
Who does wage theft affect?
- Wage theft cheats Texas families out of hard-earned income and hurts responsible businesses who do pay their workers according to the law.
- Responsible business can’t compete with companies who don’t pay their workers.
- Half of Texas construction workers in a recent survey indicated that they were unable to meet their families’ basic needs. (3)
- Taxpayers are forced to pick up the tab when unpaid workers fall back on public safety nets.
- Employers who don’t pay their workers also don’t pay taxes, forcing cutbacks of vital services.
What does the Texas Wage Theft Act do?
- The act empowers law enforcement across Texas to investigate wage theft under the Texas Penal Code section 31.04.
- It closes a loophole in the law that allowed employers to get off the hook by partially paying their workers.
- It clarifies that criminal penalties can apply in cases of non-payment of wages.
- Criminal Theft of Service can help stop wage theft. Austin Police Department (APD) has adopted a policy of enforcing criminal theft of service in cases of wage theft.
How do we implement the law?
- Effective enforcement of wage theft cases under Theft of Service requires collaboration between law enforcement and the court systems to prosecute cases.
- Provide additional training for detectives and officers as well as court officials on the changes to the Texas Penal Code.
- Partner with other Texas cities to help them implement the law.
(1) Amy Price et. al., Build a Better Texas: Construction Working Conditions in the Lone Star State, The University of Texas at Austin [Division of Diversity and Community Engagement] and Workers Defense Project, January 2013.
(2) Abel Valenzuela et. al., On the Corner: Day Labor in the United States, UCLA Center for the Study of Urban Poverty, 2006.
(3) Price, Build a Better Texas.