[Marxism] Low-Wage Workers Are Often Cheated, Study Says

Greg McDonald sabocat59 at gmail.com
Thu Sep 3 07:38:59 MDT 2009


The original report in full:  http://tinyurl.com/l22cly

Low-Wage Workers Are Often Cheated, Study Says

Published: September 1, 2009

Low-wage workers are routinely denied proper overtime pay and are
often paid less than the minimum wage, according to a new study based
on a survey of workers in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
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Less Than the MinimumGraphic
Less Than the Minimum

The study, the most comprehensive examination of wage-law violations
in a decade, also found that 68 percent of the workers interviewed had
experienced at least one pay-related violation in the previous work

“We were all surprised by the high prevalence rate,” said Ruth
Milkman, one of the study’s authors and a sociology professor at the
University of California, Los Angeles, and the City University of New
York. The study, to be released on Wednesday, was financed by the
Ford, Joyce, Haynes and Russell Sage Foundations.

In surveying 4,387 workers in various low-wage industries, including
apparel manufacturing, child care and discount retailing, the
researchers found that the typical worker had lost $51 the previous
week through wage violations, out of average weekly earnings of $339.
That translates into a 15 percent loss in pay.

The researchers said one of the most surprising findings was how
successful low-wage employers were in pressuring workers not to file
for workers’ compensation. Only 8 percent of those who suffered
serious injuries on the job filed for compensation to pay for medical
care and missed days at work stemming from those injuries.

“The conventional wisdom has been that to the extent there were
violations, it was confined to a few rogue employers or to especially
disadvantaged workers, like undocumented immigrants,” said Nik
Theodore, an author of the study and a professor of urban planning and
policy at the University of Illinois, Chicago. “What our study shows
is that this is a widespread phenomenon across the low-wage labor
market in the United States.”

According to the study, 39 percent of those surveyed were illegal
immigrants, 31 percent legal immigrants and 30 percent native-born

The study found that 26 percent of the workers had been paid less than
the minimum wage the week before being surveyed and that one in seven
had worked off the clock the previous week. In addition, 76 percent of
those who had worked overtime the week before were not paid their
proper overtime, the researchers found.

The new study, “Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers,” was conducted in
the first half of 2008, before the brunt of the recession hit. The
median wage of the workers surveyed was $8.02 an hour — supervisors
were not surveyed — with more than three-quarters of those interviewed
earning less than $10 an hour. When the survey was conducted, the
minimum wage was $7.15 in New York State, $7.50 in Illinois and $8 in

Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis responded to the report with an e-mail
statement, saying, “There is no excuse for the disregard of federal
labor standards — especially those designed to protect the neediest
among us.” Ms. Solis said she was in the process of hiring 250 more
wage-and-hour investigators. “Today’s report clearly shows we still
have a major task before us,” she said.

The study’s authors noted that many low-wage employers comply with
wage and labor laws. The National Federation of Independent Business,
which represents small-business owners, said it encouraged members “to
stay in compliance with state and federal labor laws.”

But many small businesses say they are forced to violate wage laws to
remain competitive.

The study found that women were far more likely to suffer minimum wage
violations than men, with the highest prevalence among women who were
illegal immigrants. Among American-born workers, African-Americans had
a violation rate nearly triple that for whites.

“These practices are not just morally reprehensible, but they’re bad
for the economy,” said Annette Bernhardt, an author of the study and
policy co-director of the National Employment Law Project. “When
unscrupulous employers break the law, they’re robbing families of
money to put food on the table, they’re robbing communities of
spending power and they’re robbing governments of vital tax revenues.”

When the Russell Sage Foundation announced a grant to help finance the
survey, it said that low-wage workers were “hard to find” for
interviews and that “government compliance surveys shy away from the
difficult task of measuring workplace practices beyond the standard
wage, benefits and hours questions.”

The report found that 57 percent of workers sampled had not received
mandatory pay documents the previous week, which are intended to help
make sure pay is legal and accurate. Of workers who receive tips, 12
percent said their employer had stolen some of the tips.

One in five workers reported having lodged a complaint about wages to
their employer or trying to form a union in the previous year, and 43
percent of them said they had experienced some form of illegal
retaliation, like firing or suspension, the study said.

In instances when workers’ compensation should have been used, the
study found, one third of workers injured on the job paid the bills
for treatment out of their own pocket and 22 percent used their health
insurance. Workers’ compensation insurance paid medical expenses for
only 6 percent of the injured workers surveyed, the researchers found.

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