After years of struggle the Rhode Island General Assembly under the leadership of Senator Donna Nesslebush, and Representative Joe Shekarchi have passed a bill that finally makes the scourge of wage theft a crime. Stealing workers’ wages has always been civil offense with serious hurdles from the bureaucracies that were supposed to help. With close consultation with the DLT and Director Scott Jensen and legislative stakeholder meetings, House Bill 7628 and Senate Bill 2475 passed in the small morning hours on Saturday June 18.
These bills will provide for serious penalties including fines and imprisonment for taking from working Rhode Islanders. Perhaps the most significant penalty is the loss of a business license, the bills also empower the director of the Department of Labor and Training to determine compliance. Encouraging responsible reporting and discouraging false claims, the process of private suit has meaningful safeguards in place.
“Too often we see workers awarded a judgment by DLT only to have the employer refuse to pay what is owed,” said Robert McCreanor executive director of the worker advocacy law firm The Rhode Island Center for Justice. With the power to revoke business licenses from offending employers who refuse to comply with its rulings, DLT will be able to compel prompt payment and get more money, more efficiently, into the hands of the worker who earned it. While more work needs to be done to address the growing problem of wage theft, this bill provides an important tool for Rhode Island workers.”
Said Lidia Jimenez a member of Fuerza Laboral, “As a worker that has had their wages stolen, I feel proud that my testimony and that of Flor Salazar helped elected officials understand the atrocities that are committed daily by bad employers who feel that justice will not reach them and take our daily bread. This will help put an end to some of the abuse.” It is estimated by Economic Progress Institute that over $50,000,000,000 per year are stolen from workers’ wages. The process of enforcement historically has been spotty and difficult to apply.
Jeremy Rix who is running for 2nd ward of the Warwick City Council said, “I’m thrilled that the wage theft reforms introduced by Rep. Shekarchi become law. This law will deter many unethical employers from stealing wages, and provide a meaningful path for vulnerable employees to recover their stolen earnings.”
The organizations that have participated in the effort to pass these two vital bills are: Rhode Island Jobs with Justice, The RIAFL-CIO, Fuerza Laboral, and the Rhode Island Center for Justice. Each of these organizations is committed to improving the conditions of Rhode Island’s working people.