For many of California’s low-wage workers, justice was never served after winning judgments against their former employers who cheated them out of owed wages and other employment benefits. In fact, the problem is so bad in California, some are labeling it an “epidemic,” reports San Francisco wage and hour lawyer Eric Grover.
According to a report by the National Employment Law Project and the UCLA Labor Centers entitled "Hollow Victories: The Crisis in Collecting Unpaid Wages for California's Workers," only 17% of court-ordered judgments on claims for back pay and labor law penalties were collected from 2008 to 2011.
“Only 42% — $165 million out of $390 million — was recovered after being verified by government regulators, even after judges signed orders and employers signed settlement agreements.” And while the plaintiffs waited for their settlements, “companies representing three-fifths of unpaid-wage judgments legally vanished, “ the report revealed.
To help combat this problem, advocates for low-income workers are backing a bill, AB 1164, introduced in Legislature this session but stalled in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. The bill by Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), also know as the Fair Paycheck Act, would issue a wage lien on an employer's real property to ensure assets are available to settle any unpaid wages after a judgment is rendered.
"AB 1164 is about fairness," Lowenthal said. "Every Californian deserves to be paid the wages they are due."
Opponents of the bill, such as the California Chamber of Commerce, are calling it a “Job Killer;” and said it "would cripple California businesses by allowing any employee, employee representative or the Labor commissioner to file super-priority liens on an employer's real property ... for an alleged, yet unproven wage claim."
Lowenthal plans to revive the bill next year.
“Assemblywoman Lowenthal’s bill is essential to ensure that underground employers are held liable for wage theft and other practices designed to increase profits on the backs of their workers,” says San Francisco wage and hour lawyer Eric Grover. “Stricter regulations need to be in place to keep these business owners from dropping off the map and force them to pay their wage debts.”