Workers with lowest wages also cheated most, study shows
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A comprehensive new study of low wage workers shows that most of them are not even being paid the meager wages they??ve agreed to work for, thanks to cheating employers. In addition most are not covered by workers compensation insurance or are pressured not to report serious injuries to seek workers compensation benefits. More than 4,000 workers in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago were interviewed revealing shocking details of exploitation and pressure by employers to give up legally provided rights.

--26% of workers interviewed were paid less than the minimum wage. Sixty percent of them were paid more than a dollar less than the minimum wage. Even among tipped workers, 30% were not paid the lower minimum wage mandated for tipped employees.

--25% worked more than 40 hours the previous week. Those working overtime averaged more than 51 hours in the week. Of those who worked overtime, 76% were not paid in accordance with overtime laws.

--The average worker in the study was cheated out of $51 the week prior to being interviewed, a 15% cut on their average $339 weekly earnings.

--Of the interviewed workers who experienced a serious injury on the job, only 8% sought workers compensation claims. Among those who did, 50% were illegally pressured by employers to abandon the claim, were fired, or reported to immigration authorities.

--Only 39% of workers interviewed were illegal immigrants. The rest were either legal immigrants or native born Americans.

One of the reasons the cheating is so widespread appears to be fear of employees to speak up. The study reports that ??when workers complained about their working conditions or tried to organize a union, employers often responded by retaliating against them. Just as important, many workers never made complaints in the first place, often because they feared retaliation by their employer.??

The conclusion wasn??t just based on anecdotal research. Twenty percent of workers complained about wages or working conditions and almost half were met with illegal employer retaliation, such as firing, suspension or threats.

The study was completed by the University of California, Los Angeles, and the City University of New York and is available online from the National Employment Law Project.