Supervisors and activists decry businesses that deny wages to low-income workers

Sup. David Campos is sponsoring legislation to get tougher on businesses that engage in wage theft.
Evie Pitts

For one of this country's first government hearings regarding wage theft yesterday (Thurs/12), San Francisco activists, public employees, and politicians alike were determined to find ways to address issues surrounding low-income workers who are paid below minimum wage or otherwise deprived of money they're entitled to.

Wage theft may involve a number of different violations including payment below the minimum wage, obligation to work off the clock, and denial of overtime and sick pay. Low-income jobs such as construction work, hospitality and domestic care are the most cited types of employment for wage theft and wage theft disproportionately affects communities of color and those with language barriers.

“We are not going to allow any worker in San Francisco to be exploited,” said Sup. David Campos said on the steps of City Hall, later presiding over the Government Audit and Oversight Committee hearing on the issue. “Wage theft affects the lowest wage workers and their ability to make a living and survive in these tough economic times.”

The pre-hearing protest and the meeting was comprised of workers with emotional stories of poverty and injustice. Other speakers included Donna Levitt, the director of the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, the agency in charge of overseeing claims of employers withholding wages, and Rajiv Bhatia, the director of Occupational and Environmental Health at the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

Levitt said that 500 claims of wage theft have been addressed by the OLSE since the minimum wage law’s inception in 2003. Dan Goncher of Harvey M. Rose Associates, which does budget analysis for the city, cited data showing that the OLSE takes significantly longer to go through the hearing process for back wages than other agencies. However, Levitt mentioned that 97 percent of cases are settled and never go to the City Attorney’s Office for a hearing.

“Very little thought from our policymakers was made on how this was going to be enforced,” Levitt said of the current minimum wage law.

The coalition of community organizations including Young Workers United, Filipino Community Center, Chinese Progressive Association, San Francisco Tenants Association, Unite Here Local 2, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, and others joined together for the protest in order to raise awareness of some proposed amendments to the current minimum wage enforcement law.

Co-sponsored by Campos and Sup. Eric Mar, the amendments would add additional penalties such as raising the fine for employers from $500 to $1,000 for retaliating against workers exercising rights under the current law, the ability to interview employees and inspect payroll records at places of business, the requirement of notifying employees when an employer is being investigated, and to posting of a public notice when an employer fails to comply with a settlement agreement.

“We want to see the city taking a stronger commitment to addressing the issue of wage theft,” said lead organizer of the Chinese Progressive Association Shaw San Liu. “We don’t want this to be a one-day publicity stunt.”

One of the workers, who spoke about his experience of wage theft, recalled working long hours without the assurance of payment. “We would wait for hours for them to come back pay us but they never came,” Jose Cruz, a day laborer and client of La Raza Centro Legal, said about one of his jobs.

Bhatia explained to the supervisors and crowded audience in the committee hearing room that in the last week, 26 percent of the nation’s low wage workers were paid less than minimum wage. He also outlined different steps such as tracking chronic violators and training health inspectors to make referrals to local enforcement agencies in cases of non-compliance, so the SFDPH could support the community efforts in decreasing wage theft.

In addition, both Campos and Board President David Chiu made a point of speaking about how wage theft also detrimentally affects businesses.

“Most businesses play by the rules and those businesses are at a disadvantage when we allow businesses to not follow the rules,” said Campos.

“This is not about workers versus businesses,” Chiu said. “The issue of wage theft effects workers and workers’ families across the city.”


Wage theft is a pervasive problem in this city and throughout the country. So, I don't think anyone could argue with these amendments to the current minimum wage enforcement law. In fact, there was not a single opposition speaker at the hearing. All the more reason to pass the wage theft ordinance without delay! Let's hope that other cities follow San Francisco's lead.

Bravo Supervisors Campos and Mar!!

Posted by Lisa on May. 13, 2011 @ 4:39 pm

Do it Lisa/Gabriel!!

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on May. 13, 2011 @ 5:37 pm

How much is this going to cost?

I also enjoyed that Campos thinks business should follow the rules. More hypocritical ravings from a sanctuary city a hole.

Posted by matlock on May. 14, 2011 @ 8:26 am

standing in front of the Chris Lux Mural.

Posted by Nate on May. 16, 2011 @ 8:05 am

""San Francisco activists, public employees, and politicians alike""

Why are "public employees" in this mix?

Politicians should be focusing on making these pencil-pushers pay for their own pensions (average pension: $75,000 a year) and stop bankrupting the city instead of letting them sit at the table advocating for this worthy cause of making employers pay what they promise.

Gabby, hear what I'm saying?

Posted by Barton on May. 16, 2011 @ 8:16 am

In SF the public employee union leadership think they are another branch of the government.

In SF we have; executive, legislative, Bay Guardian, public employee union leadership, non profit industrial complex, and the neighborhood activist branch.

They all think they are vital and important advocates for their theory of everything. Thats why public employees are on about this subject when it has little to do with them. They have other things to do but that can be boring, so they find other things to turn their good intentions upon.

Posted by matlock on May. 16, 2011 @ 9:50 am

And why again is this a SF issue? Don't we already have the State Department of Industrial Relations that enforces these issues. Duplicative and/or conflicting laws and enforcement mechanisms do not make for efficient government.

Posted by Guest666 on May. 16, 2011 @ 11:47 am

I would think Public Employee contacts are involved as many private market surveys are based on both private & public sector pay. Additionally, public sector organizations have far more experience in bringing municipalities in line with average pay amongst counties. The City will never spend money to do so.

As for Barton's post, I work in private sector, but do enough research on the Pension debate to ask you where you get your $75,000/yr retirement for public sector workers. Can you provide your source. As has been documented, the average pension rate for state public workers is $32,900/yr. All you hear about is Public Safety, Prison Guards, etc. You never hear the media factor in the majority who are mid-range employment. And, odd, how the Board of Sups now make more, than most top step Deputy/Officer of the 9 Bay Area counties, including cities: based on SF Govs own Market Survey's presented in 2009 at public hearings.

What should shock everyone is the Fed Gov decision last year that Farm Workers are NOT entitled to Federal Minimum Wage; regardless of being legal or not. And, they also are not considered under the Minimum Wage requirements in the various counties. This came about in 1936 under the Farm Labor Act.

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2011 @ 12:11 pm

I thought that is was shitty jobs done for shitty pay that that makes illegals so sought after. If this discussion was to actually get teeth then who would bother hiring an illegal if you have to pay fair wages and benefits and still have to deal with ICE knocking at your back door.

Politician pandering. Maybe Mar and Campos should have been standing out in front of Sheman Williams or U-haul shaking their sanctimonious fists.

In the meanwhile SFUSD will face additional cuts. Nice to see were the priorities are.

Posted by opinionizmiown on May. 18, 2011 @ 6:46 am

You are right. Why hire them if they cannot be exploited for their hard work and precarious existence in this country. It isn't right but it is true that they will do the work Americans, of any color, do not want to do. Why would any American pick lettuce or work a twelve hour shift in the back of some hot kitchen when they can just pick up a welfare check and food stamps? While we're getting these people their wages why don't we get some of those lazy folks on the dole into these jobs. (Not attacking single moms, they're not the only ones on welfare)

Posted by Guest on May. 18, 2011 @ 9:24 am

Stop insinuating that somehow Americans are lazy.

What is lazy/corrupt is our government is in the back pockets of big business. Illegal labor is cheap labor and good for the bottom line.

The fallout is Illegal labor artificiality suppresses US wages for US citizens which in my mind is treason and or at least criminal.

Businesses exploit US jobs by paying slave labor wages to illegals in the name of preserving cheep food/products.

This notion stinks as bad as the chemical fertilizers used to grow our food.

$12.00 cucumber? Do you really believe this?

Consider the amount of food that is thrown away each day and the fact that a large proportion of this cheap food is exported or turned into fuel in the case of corn. The question is what are the actual savings? Are these savings worth what we lose in decent wages and benefits that should be paid to American citizens?

Support Americans, deport illegals

Posted by opinionizmiown on May. 21, 2011 @ 5:15 am

I read an article not to long ago that a farmer in Uvalde, Texas decided to just hire American citizens. He put an ad in the paper, he offered $10 an hour to pick vegetables. No one responded, he put the ad in next weekend and offered $12 an hour, he got five applicants and not one of them could last out the week. He stated he was forced to hire illegals after that because he had to get his crop in before it rotted in the field. \

Of course, I doubt he paid them $10 or $12 an hour!

Posted by chelsea on May. 21, 2011 @ 6:24 am

This article is not about document or undocumented workers. It's about the fact that all who work must be paid minimum wage because it's the law. How would we like it if we worked and did not get paid what is legally ours? What if it were your young son or daughter who are being taken advantage of because they were young? I hope you would be furious with the employer.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 01, 2011 @ 4:57 pm

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