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Yet in that same year, the Ohio House adopted a budget that would cut the workplace enforcement budget by 25 percent over the next two years.170 Missouri House Speaker Steven Tilley likewise called for the complete elimination of funding for the state’s nine labor investigators.171 In 2010, Missouri’s labor department collected 0,000 in restitution for minimum-wage violations and 0,000 for prevailing-wage violations, and issued 1,714 citations for child-labor violations.172 Yet Tilley charged that investigators were being “overzealous,” particularly in prosecuting complaints of employers cheating on prevailing wages.173 Ultimately, Tilley compromised with the state’s Democratic governor, and the adopted budget eliminated only two of the Division of Labor Standards’ nine investigators rather than the entire staff.174 In either case, meager enforcement staff means there is little meaningful protection for employees’ rights under law. Department of Labor investigation found that one-third of employers who had previously violated wage and hour laws continued to do so.175 The Progressive States Network—a national organization of state legislators—has identified the key elements of effective policy for combating wage theft.
Indeed, because the enforcement mechanisms are so weak and the penalties for stealing wages are generally so modest, even employers who have been found guilty and forced to pay penalties for wage theft are often undeterred from continuing these practices. These include requirements that employers keep detailed pay records and allow employees to receive a thorough explanation of how each paycheck was calculated; the right of state authorities to inspect employers’ records; workers’ private right of action to sue for unpaid wages as individuals or in class actions; protection of complainants against retaliation by their employers; and the provision of attorney fees, damages, and penalties as part of the enforcement process.176 Yet corporate lobbies have been working hard to prohibit enforcement mechanisms such as these.
Budget cuts and political choices have exacerbated this crisis even further at the state level.
Funding was subsequently restored by the state’s Controlling Board, but even so, the state was left only six inspectors for the entire workforce.
A seventh inspector was slated to begin work later in 2011, at which point each agent would have responsibility for 616,000 private-sector workers.
ver the past two years, state legislators across the country have launched an unprecedented series of initiatives aimed at lowering labor standards, weakening unions, and eroding workplace protections for both union and non-union workers.
This policy agenda undercuts the ability of low- and middle-wage workers, both union and non-union, to earn a decent wage.
This report provides a broad overview of the attack on wages, labor standards, and workplace protections as it has been advanced in state legislatures across the country.