A number of cities have bowed to pressure from labor advocates and enacted “living wage” laws, some of them phasing in plans that will top out at $15 per hour.
A living wage is the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet their basic needs. It was designed to fight poverty, but the ripple effects that come after cities actually adopt the Living Wage Laws are numerous.
Ensuring that employers actually follow the new guidelines is difficult. State and federal laws don’t require employers to provide data proving that they are in compliance, oversight agencies say. The data is most often contained in payment check stubs, but employers are not required to share the information.
Cities That Use Living Wage Laws
Among cities that have adopted the wage increases are Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico, San Francisco, California, and Washington D.C. The issue is on the agendas of many state legislatures and city governments as the press for better wages heats up.
Enforcers generally rely on worker complaints to initiate actions against employers who do not conform, but the employees are reluctant to complain for fear of reprisals, so many instances of non-compliance go unnoticed. Labor groups estimate that a quarter of the country’s workers who fall under the guidelines are not receiving the legislated wages. But if one employee complains, enforcers use it as leverage to investigate pay records for all of the business’ employees on the supposition that the problem affects more than the single complainant.
Recommendations For Enforcement
Haeyoung Yoon of the National Employment Law Project calls the problem “pervasive and rampant” in an Associated Press news article. The project recommends higher fines against non-compliant employers and more stringent enforcement. The costs of enforcement are high, but could be recouped through fines, she said.
Some employers don’t understand the new laws, but others sidestep the provisions by requiring workers to work unpaid or off the clock to make up the difference. Others raise the wage, but cut the benefits.
Hospitality and transportation workers serving in SeaTac, Washington are granted the Living Wage Law. This community however needed courts to enforce compliance and have filed more than a dozen class-action suits this year in behalf of workers. The total amount of contested wages, related benefits and possible penalties could add up to $62.5 million.