Oh, what a difference a new administration can make! – National Consumers League

By Michell K. McIntyre, Director of NCL’s Special Project on Wage Theft

With every new presidential administration comes a change in leadership, priorities, and budgets at various federal agencies.  For the Obama administration, significant changes were made to the Department of Labor (DOL) and protecting America’s workers from wage theft became a top priority. With former Congresswoman Hilda Solis at the helm, DOL has expanded its efforts to protect workers and the middle class from unethical and illegal labor practices.

The Wage and Hour Division of DOL has seen dramatic changes with the new administration – including the hiring of 300 new investigators to help ease the load of backed up cases the understaffed agency was swimming in. The new staff will significantly enhance the agency’s ability to enforce compliance laws while maintaining the current labor laws that have come under attack from big business, industry and those in Congress who seek to limit the Department’s enforcement reach.

DOL announced recently that they have collected more than $1 million for 295 New Jersey gas station workers for back wages on the non-compliance of the minimum wage, overtime and recording keeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  More generally, after two years of major organizational and operational changes, the Wage & Hour Division has collected $224,844,870 in back wages for American workers in the fiscal year of 2011 (Sept. 1, 2010-Oct. 31, 2011) – the largest amount collected in a single fiscal year in the division’s history.  The Wage & Hour Division registered 27,112 complaints and obtained back pay for 275,472 workers who were victims of wage theft. These accomplishments speak for themselves and demonstrate that the division has become a stronger, more effective law enforcement agency and protector of America’s workers.

The nearly $225 million in back wages represent the hard earned pay that workers were cheated out of through wage theft, including: unpaid overtime, below minimum wage pay rates, being misclassified as an independent contractor instead of an employee, and not being paid for the time it takes to don and doff a uniform or protective gear. DOL’s crackdown on wage theft not only protects workers, but also helps cash strapped states and local governments who have been cheated out of income taxes and levels the playing field for ethical businesses who have been losing out to dishonest competitors who cheat their employees.

DOL is off to a great pace to combat the ever-growing problem of wage theft. American workers should start to feel safer voicing complaints, standing up for their rights at work, and demanding to get paid fairly. With the 300 new investigators fresh off a two-year training program, DOL will hopefully be able to surpass their historic results and protect more of America’s workforce.