Key Legislators and Worker Advocates Introduce Bill to Crack Down On Wage Theft in Illinois

SPRINGFIELD, Ill.Feb. 21, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Three key legislators, State Senate Labor Committee Chairman Daniel Biss and State Representatives Lisa Hernandez and Carol Ammons, have joined forces with worker advocates, including HourVoice and United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 881, to introduce groundbreaking legislation (SB1720) to crack down on wage theft in Illinois. Wage theft is estimated to cost American workers over $50 billion per year and news reports have shown Illinois is a very difficult state for workers to recoup stolen wages. 

"Our Illinois Fighting Wage Theft Act increases the penalties on companies that commit serious wage theft and prohibits those companies from receiving state government contracts for at least five years," said State Senator and Labor Committee Chairman Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), who is sponsoring the bill. "Fair to both workers and businesses, SB1720 will level the playing field. Workers deserve to get paid every dollar they've earned and employers who treat workers properly and play by the rules shouldn't be undercut by competitors who cheat their workers."

Wage theft takes many forms, including: shorting workers on their hours, not paying the minimum wage, and not properly paying overtime. It most commonly victimizes low-paid workers; the very people who most need the money they earn.

Workers in nearly every industry are affected. For example, fast food giant Domino's was caught using payroll software that systematically underpaid workers, and a major road contractor paid with our Illinois tax dollars was caught shorting its workers by $1.5 million.

"Latinos and other minority workers are particularly victimized by companies that commit wage theft," explained State Representative Lisa Hernandez (D-Berwyn), a Member of the House Labor and Commerce Committee. "Wage theft robs hard working people of the money they need to support their families and it is a corporate crime that needs to be seriously punished."

"At a time when Illinois faces an unprecedented budget crisis, we should never be giving precious taxpayer dollars to companies that cheat their own workers." said State Representative Carol Ammons (D-Champaign). "I'm proud that our bill ensures that only companies that pay their workers fairly can be eligible for state contracts.  We will help protect workers and Illinois taxpayers at the same time."

Governments across America are taking action to ensure taxpayer dollars don't go to companies that commit wage theft. The Cook County Board in 2015 passed an ordinance that "prohibits any company or individual who is found guilty or liable of wage theft from obtaining Cook County procurement contracts, business licenses or property tax incentives for a period of five years." In 2013, the Chicago City Council authorized the City of Chicago to pull the business licenses of companies that commit wage theft

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has aggressively fought wage theft by government contractors and sub-contractors, recently winning a series of arrests leading to guilty pleas that, "recovered nearly $1.5 million for underpaid workers, and resulted in the debarment of the subcontractors, which prevents them from bidding on or being awarded public works contracts in New York State for a period of five years." 

"Wage theft is a very serious concern for workers in retail food and drug stores – and in workplaces across Illinois," said UFCW Local 881 Political Director Zach Koutsky. "This is a critical issue for the 34,000 workers we represent, and we commend Senator Biss and Representatives Hernandez and Ammons for leading the charge on this fundamental issue of justice and fairness."

A leading organization in highlighting working conditions in Illinois is HourVoice, founded by Chicago social entrepreneur Don Chartier (article). HourVoice provides a free online tool for hourly workers to rate their employers, find better ones, track their hours, and learn about their rights. HourVoice created the website, which helps Illinois residents connect with their legislators and Governor Rauner in support of the Illinois Fighting Wage Theft Act.