Wage theft prevention ordinance moves forward

Members of the Progressive Workers Alliance celebrate after committee members voice support for stronger worker protections.
Photo by Rebecca Bowe

Supervisors expressed strong support July 20 for an ordinance that a San Francisco coalition of labor advocates is pushing for to prevent wage theft and shore up protections for low-income workers. Spearheaded by Sups. Eric Mar and David Campos with Sups. Ross Mirkarimi, Jane Kim, John Avalos, and David Chiu as co-sponsors, the legislation would enhance the power of the city's Office of Labor Standards and Enforcement (OLSE) and double fines for employers who retaliate against workers.

Dozens of low-wage restaurant workers, caregivers, and day laborers turned out for a July 20 Budget & Finance Committee meeting to speak in support of the Wage Theft Prevention Ordinance, which was drafted in partnership with the Progressive Workers Alliance. The umbrella organization includes grassroots advocacy groups such as the Chinese Progressive Association, the Filipino Community Center, Pride at Work, Young Workers United, and others.

A restaurant worker who gave his name as Edwin said during the hearing that he'd been granted no work breaks, no time off, and had his tips stolen by his employer during a two-and-a-half year stint in a San Francisco establishment, only to be fired for trying to take a paid sick day. "When I was let go, I did not receive payment for my last days there," he said.

His experience is not uncommon. An in-depth study of labor conditions in Chinatown restaurants conducted by the Chinese Progressive Association found that some 76 percent of employees did not receive overtime pay when they worked more than 40 hours in a week, and roughly half were not being paid San Francisco's minumum wage of $9.92 an hour.

"People who need a job and can't afford to lose it are vulnerable to exploitation," Shaw San Liu, an organizer with the Chinese Progressive Association who has been instrumental in advancing the campaign to end wage theft, told the Guardian.

The ordinance would increase fines against employers from $500 to $1,000 for retaliating against workers who stand up for their rights under local labor laws. It would establish $500 penalties for employers who don't bother to post notice of the minimum wage, don't provide contact information, neglect to notify employees when OLSE is conducting a workplace investigation, or fail to comply with settlement agreements in the wake of a dispute. It would also establish a timeline in which worker complaints must be addressed.

"The fact is that even though we have minimum wage laws in place, those laws are still being violated not only throughout the country but here in San Francisco," Campos told the Guardian. "Wage theft is a crime, and we need to make sure that there is adequate enforcement -- and that requires a change in the law so that we provide the Office of Labor Standards and Enforcement more tools and more power to make sure that the rights of workers are protected. Not only does it protect workers, but it also protects businesses, because the vast majority of businesses in San Francisco are actually ... complying with the law, and it's not fair for them to let a small minority that are not doing that get away with it."

So far, the ordinance is moving through the board approval process with little resistance. Mayor Ed Lee has voiced support, and Budget Committee Chair Carmen Chu, who is often at odds with board progressives, said she supported the goal of preventing wage theft and thanked advocates for their efforts during the hearing. The item was continued to the following week due to several last-minute changes, and will go before the full board on Aug. 2.


complain about over-regulation. Or wonder why unemployment is at an all-time high.

Many of us work unpaid overtime, and do whatever it takes to make their business successful. American didn't become great by imposing endless red tape on the only part of the economy that pays for everything.

The day when the BofS actually enact something that is attractive to business is the day this City will wake up from it's economic malaise.

Posted by Walter on Jul. 20, 2011 @ 2:45 pm

This is really a no-brainer.

Long time ago, I did a stint at Wal-Mart. I'll never set foot in one again largely as a result of my experience there, but that's a whole different story. Anyhow, they had a concept called "time theft." Time theft is when the workers who were being paid minimum wage, no benefits, no overtime, would do things like put on their work uniforms on the clock, or forget to clock out for a bathroom break. Time theft. Unbelievable.

Oh, but locking the doors at night and telling your employees that they can't go home until a certain set of tasks is completed (without overtime of course!)... that's not "time theft."

This isn't a Juarez maquiladora, or a turn-of-the-century sweatshop. This is the way the largest American corporation operates, today. Needless to say, while they do have a concept of "time theft," they don't have a concept of wage theft.

But this is what happens in the absence of strong government regulations and/or political will on the part of the government to enforce them. The 99% of us who work for a living rather than making money off the fruits of the labor of others, should feel very priveleged that we're living in a city like San Francisco, where the government at least cares a little bit about the welfare of its citizens.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 20, 2011 @ 3:22 pm


Although I am in complete agreement with you on staying out of Walmart (although my hatred for the firm derives from its destruction of small town America), I have to call you on your statement that 99% of us don't make money off the fruits of the labor of others.

If you receive SS, a pension, investment income of any kind, Medicare/Medical, government assistance, or any other income source not directly tied to one's own personal labor, then by definition you are making money off the fruits of the labor of others.

Posted by Guest666 on Jul. 20, 2011 @ 4:02 pm

There's a difference between those public programs which we all pay into, and people who own and exploit for their personal gain.

On the one hand, you have enterprises whose main purpose is to concentrate wealth into the hands of a few. On the other, you have social programs created to do exactly the opposite -to spread society's benefits more equally. To compare the two is just mind-boggling.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 20, 2011 @ 4:27 pm

I'd say that includes everyone on welfare, a pension or a government grant or loan, wouldn't you?

We can't all be janitors, even if that's your wet dream of nobility.

Oh, and why should you get paid for "getting ready to start working"? How about the wild and crazy idea that you get paid only for actually working?

WalMart makes cheap stuff available to the majority of Americans who are poor. Rich people, by and large, wouldn't be seen dead in one. your inverted class snobbery just fell on it's face.

Posted by Walter on Jul. 20, 2011 @ 4:46 pm

It's state law that if your job requires some set up before your shift starts the employers needs to be paid for that.

As it turns out I believe the cities cops are now in a lawsuit with the city over this exact issue.

I dabble in HR work and so keep up on these laws. They are often are counter productive and one size fits all. Their basic purpose seems to enrich trial lawyers who then donate vast sums to democrats.

Posted by matlock on Jul. 20, 2011 @ 5:59 pm

You can't have a different law for each different situation. It may not be a perfect fit for every situation, but on the whole, as a worker, I'm glad those laws are there to protect us. Next we need the political will to enforce them.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 20, 2011 @ 8:43 pm

If businesses obeyed the law, then the trial lawyers would be out of business. I was a small business owner myself for several years, and I wasn't sued even once. I obeyed the law.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 21, 2011 @ 10:11 am

went out of business?

I think you just made my point for me.

Posted by Walter on Jul. 21, 2011 @ 10:20 am
Posted by Greg on Jul. 21, 2011 @ 10:58 am

You sold a successful business so that you could be a full-time internet warrior.

Posted by Walter on Jul. 21, 2011 @ 12:56 pm

Thats really touching.

From a lawyer I know, I like the guy but he's a lawyer...

A person working for a non-profit gets fired so he sues the non-profit as revenge. These cases go before a administrative judge first, not a real trial judge. The guy claims at an administrative hearing to have been keeping track of the days he was shorted hours. Some of those days were Mondays of three day weekends, like Labor day, days the office was closed.

I know all a few of the mechanics at a shop that was sued by a fired employee who went from, terrible mechanic, to terrible parts person, to phone answerer, then to quitter, then to lawsuit bringer. The business produced employee reviews showing person was a terrible mechanic and thats why they kept getting demoted. The one I am friends with would tell me about the uselessness long before the lawsuit ever came up.

I used to have beers with a union rep who would bemoan the fact that he had to represent people he suspected were lying. This person spouted liberal cliches like you do and is not part of the conspiracy.

In cases that we all have to pay for

The city is continuously spending money on lawyers to defend itself from; firemen who drink on the job, union flunkies fired for filling there cars up at city gas pumps or stealing cases of toilet paper, and an endless string of other idiocies.

Posted by matlock on Jul. 21, 2011 @ 9:18 pm

I never said there weren't. There's no denying, however, that the power balance is clearly on the side of the employer. Yes, once in a while the poor, weak working stiff pulls one over on the big powerful corporation, but I'd still rather have laws that protect the weak rather than the strong. Unfortunately, overall our laws protect the power of the already powerful.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 22, 2011 @ 7:50 am

"If businesses followed the law

If businesses obeyed the law, then the trial lawyers would be out of business. I was a small business owner myself for several years, and I wasn't sued even once. I obeyed the law. "

Posted by matlock on Jul. 22, 2011 @ 9:41 am

All those programs you cite are there because people actually need them, and society as a whole benefits in various ways. All of them serve to reduce inequality, which is ultimately good for all of us. Well, almost all of us.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 20, 2011 @ 8:41 pm

over-regulation is in the public interest. It certainly isn't mine. We all benefit if businesses flourish. That's the real public interest.

Pay should be for productiveness and results, not "getting ready".

Posted by Walter on Jul. 21, 2011 @ 7:15 am

When a CEO flies on a luxury business trip in first class, they still get paid for the time they're luxuriating. The least he can do is pay his working stiffs for the time it takes to put on the ridiculous uniform he mandated. That's not over-regulation. That's common sense. No business is going to cease "flourishing" because of a few rules that keep them from being total swine.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 21, 2011 @ 7:56 am


Most people in first or business class who are headed out on business trips spend most of their time hunched over their laptops working. And quite often this is before or after a 10-14 hour day that does not include overtime.

The world is just not as black and white as you like to believe.

Posted by Guest666 on Jul. 21, 2011 @ 9:13 am

And I'm sure the work of a $40,000,000 CEO in his private jet is 1000 more difficult in work of a $40,000 worker.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 21, 2011 @ 10:09 am

his work is 1,000 times more difficult but because he adds 1,000 times as much value. Otherwise the shareholders would kick him out, and they frequently do.

Posted by Walter on Jul. 21, 2011 @ 10:22 am

He frequently adds no value at all. He's paid 1000 times more because our social structure is designed to concentrate wealth. If I'm a shareholder of a few shares of Megacorp, I'd never vote for that. But my vote doesn't matter, because these corporations are mainly owned by a select few who have millions of shares. They all sit on each other's boards and vote to give each other more money with a wink and a nod -money that's taken out of the pockets of workers and consumers.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 21, 2011 @ 10:55 am

They're the ones with skin in the game and money on the table.

While your talk is cheap.

Posted by Walter on Jul. 21, 2011 @ 12:08 pm

It's insulting to the other 99% of us to tell us that we have no stake in the decisions of corporations because we're not owners. It's not a big jump from that, to saying that only property owners should get to vote. What next, the divine right of kings?

Posted by Greg on Jul. 21, 2011 @ 2:10 pm

institutions i.e. your mutual funds, IRA's, 401K's and Company pension plans.

So you're a WalMart shareholder whether you like it or not.

Posted by Walter on Jul. 21, 2011 @ 3:35 pm

According to the AFL-CIO, there are only 10 CEOs within the S&P 500 group of companies that make over $40M and the average compensation package (including options, stock awards, etc) is $11,358,445 per year.

And compensation for CEOs is set by the Board and is arguably too high, but really is not anyone's business but the shareholders. Whether their job is 1000 times more difficult, I don't know. I guess it depends upon the $40k worker's position. All I know is that in my time in business, I would never, ever want to make the sacrifices necessary to become a CEO, much less take on the responsibility associated with the position. It isn't as easy as someone looking in from the outside would think.

Posted by Guest666 on Jul. 21, 2011 @ 10:28 am

That wealth is coming out of our pockets as workers and consumers. And don't feed me this Libertarian BS about choice. There is a system that is built to concentrate wealth, and it's to the detriment of all of us.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 21, 2011 @ 11:01 am

because you don't have the wherewithall to command any influence. You're just a loser with a gripe.

Posted by Walter on Jul. 21, 2011 @ 12:09 pm

Yours too unless you're in that top 1%. Otherwise you're just a kool-aid drinking dupe.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 21, 2011 @ 2:12 pm

Opinion as fact tactic of the far left... and far right.

It's more interesting in the left though, as they try to claim an open mindedness about the world, while being as open minded as father Coughlin.

The opinion as fact mixed with values pronouncements, while saying that there needs to be different voices heard and all that gibberish. Comically entertaining.

I don't have a problem with paying people prep time, as an administrator it makes a certain amount of sense, I actually had lobbied for and implemented this at one time long before the law at a past employer. It ended up costing $100 a week or so. The interesting part of that is attempting to explain the process to the dumber employees, who also at the time happened to be Bay Guardian liberals. I'm not making this up, the two dumbest thought it was just automatic pay no matter how many times I explained it to them that they had to show up a certain amount of time before their shift to get it.

Posted by matlock on Jul. 21, 2011 @ 9:12 am

Wage theft can happen to anyone. But in the most egregious cases, the workers are generally immigrants who are vulnerable to exploitation. I've heard of numerous cases where the employer owed their workers thousands of dollars in back pay. But rather than pay them, they threatened to call ICE on them. So, these workers are essentially providing slave labor.

It takes immense courage to stand up for your rights if you are undocumented or isolated from other workers. Hats of to Sups. Mar, Campos, Avalos, Mirkarimi, et al.

Posted by Lisa on Jul. 21, 2011 @ 6:24 pm

hats *off*

Posted by Lisa on Jul. 21, 2011 @ 6:30 pm

I'm sure that all the haters are going to come out and talk about abuses of trial lawyers and the rest. But as I said above you have to look at the scale. On the one hand you have a few no-good employees who might try to take advantage of the system; on the other hand you have entire companies preying on entire groups of vulnerable employees. Who has the money here? Who has the power? Who is responsible for the vast majority of abuse out there? It's not the little guy.

In a just world, these employers would go to jail. If you steal money from a business, the business doesn't sue you for what you owe them in civil court. No, the police come and take you to jail. This sould be no different. Wage theft is theft, pure and simple.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 22, 2011 @ 7:59 am