Policing Wage Theft in the Day Labor Market

Stephen Lee
Date of Publication: 
November, 2014
Source Organization: 

In recent years, workers' right advocates have pushed for the criminalization of wage theft, i.e. the nonpayment of wages for work already performed. They have convinced a number of state and local governments to pass laws imposing hefty fines and the possibility of imprisonment for engaging in it.

Noting that wage theft is most common in the informal labor market and that many of the affected workers are undocumented immigrants, Stephen Lee evaluates the effectiveness of this strategy. Even with the best of intentions, police departments find it difficult to "insulate" themselves against the pressure to cooperate with federal authorities. The author concludes that, "the distrust of the police effectively neutralizes the potential of wage theft statutes when employed against employers who hire unauthorized immigrant workers." Another unintended consequence is that employers, who themselves are undocumented, may be apprehended and deported, cutting off a source of livelihood for immigrant workers. He acknowledges, however, that the existing civil regime for enforcing labor law is weak and the limited resources of the federal government, and the unwillingness of many labor attorneys to take on these cases given the small sums involved and the contingency fee model under which they operate. One effective approach might be legislation like the Trust Act recently passed in California. However, further research is needed to determine the extent to which local police departments can reassure immigrant communities and secure their trust and cooperation. (Abstract courtesy of Nicholas Montalto, PhD.)

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Lee, S. (2014). Policing Wage Theft in the Day Labor Market. UC Irvine Law Review. Irvine: CA. Available at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2530670