fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work is not a partisan issue. Republicans and
Democrats alike can agree that if you work hard and play by the rules, you
deserve to be paid. But the shocking
reality is that the many low-wage earners fall prey to a variety of employer
tricks, such as minimum wage and overtime violations, and just plain
non-payment of owed wages.
problem, known as wage-theft, often hits low-wage workers the hardest, even
though these people are the ones least able to take the financial hit.
good news is that Governor Quinn of Illinois has just signed into law a
bipartisan bill we both sponsored that will help make wage-theft in Illinois a
problem of the past.
is a real problem for Illinois. In Chicago alone, there are
approximately 146,300 workers in the city and across Cook County who experience
at least one pay‐based violation in any given week. Given
this figure, workers in low-wage industries in Chicago stand to lose $7.3
million per week because of employment and labor law violations.
hardworking residents have suffered from multiple scams. Twenty six percent of Chicago
workers surveyed received less than minimum wage, and for those who worked more
than 40 hours per week, two out of three were not paid overtime.
is a national problem, too. One study of low-wage
workers found that 68 percent lost an average of $2,634 annually, totaling 15
percent of yearly earnings.
is especially hard on low-wage workers.
They spend a higher percentage of their income on necessities and
usually have less money to pay attorney’s fees if they have to file a wage claim.
This is money that, in the hands of low-income
families, would go right into the economy to buy basic goods like food and
wage-theft epidemic affects not only workers who are not paid their earned
wages, but also all Illinois taxpayers who have to make up the millions in
unpaid payroll taxes. Filling in this
gap puts Illinois businesses that follow the law at an unfair disadvantage when
competing with employers who are happy to flout the rules.
the gravity of the problem, the truth is that we had not previously given our
state Department of Labor the necessary tools to adequately enforce the law.
Illinois Department of Labor has been operating with expensive, inefficient,
and redundant processes that have hindered its ability to help infringed-upon
workers recover their stolen wages.
There are already an average of 10,000 claims per year, many of which
can take months or even years to process. And it has been unable to effectively
seek out and punish abusive employers who withhold earned wages or illegally
retaliate against workers’ claims as its findings have carried no legal weight.
why we commend the Just Pay For All
efforts in bringing this issue forward and in mobilizing the Illinois
legislature to draft amendments to Illinois’ Wage Payment and Collection Act to
fix these problems.
that the governor has signed our bill into law, the dream of a fair Illinois
pay system for all workers is finally a reality.
new amendments, which go into effect on January 1, will give the Department of
Labor the tools it needs to effectively, efficiently, and fairly enforce the
law and will serve to deter wage thieves by increasing civil and criminal
penalties, especially for repeat violators. The law creates a new small claims
division of the IDOL so it can directly oversee claims of workers with unpaid wages
of $3,000 or less. Repeat violations will now be prosecuted as felonies rather
than misdemeanors and employers found guilty of wage theft must pay their
workers from the date of nonpayment, with interest, as well as a $250
there is a provision that will protect workers from experiencing retaliation
from their employers when they file unpaid wage claims, enabling them to
recover the costs of attorney fees so they can retain legal counsel for these
also respect that business organizations such as the Illinois Manufacturing
Association, Illinois Merchant’s Association, and the Illinois Chamber of
Commerce did not oppose this bill. They
understand that fair wages are a win for everyone. They are good for workers, good for
businesses, and good for the state economy.
passage of this law is a resounding victory for all workers in Illinois. But it will also ensure that the most
vulnerable low-income workers never have to worry about skipping a meal or
wearing worn out clothes because their employers choose not to follow the law.
it’s time for the rest of the country to follow our lead and ensure fair
opportunity for all.
Elizabeth Hernandez represents the 24th district in the Illinois
Mark H. Beaubien, Jr. represents the 52nd district in the Illinois