Jan. 27, 2015
Two key state senators are working on legislation to fight Iowa’s biggest crime spree: the $600 million in wages stolen from Iowa workers each year.
“Iowa’s wage theft laws don’t protect Iowa workers from being ripped off and don’t protect honest businesses who pay their employees,” said State Senator Tony Bisignano, the chair of the Senate Labor and Business Committee. “It is shameful that Iowa workers lose $600 million each year due to wage theft.”
Iowa’s wage theft laws are so weak that they are impossible to enforce,” said Senator Bill Dotzler of Waterloo. “We can fix this problem on the front end by making common sense reforms: make the law more straightforward, require a written record of the terms of employment, and protect whistleblowers.”
During a news conference at the Iowa Statehouse, Katie Wilson and Justin Banks, former servers at the Coralville Applebee’s, talked of their fight to get their share of tips illegally taken from them by management. Valentine Ruiz of Conesville, Iowa, described his ongoing fight to be paid for $1,200 of welding work he did in 2012 for a company in West Liberty. Because three other people had similar complaints, Iowa Workforce Development sought and won a judgment for back pay and interest. No penalty was imposed and Mr. Ruiz has yet to receive any of the money owned him.
The two legislators are developing legislation to strengthen Iowa’s weak wage theft laws.
“Our laws are so weak that just hiring more investigators won’t get the job done,” said Bisignano. “We need laws that make it clear you must pay your workers and make it easier and safer for workers to stand up for their rights”
The legislation being considered would make the following changes to existing law:
- Employers would be required to keep a written record of the terms of employment.
- The defense that an employer “unintentionally” failed to pay employees would no longer be a defense.
- Employees filing wage theft claims and co-workers who offered testimony on their behalf would be protected from retaliation under threat of penalty.
“Most Iowans aren’t at risk of being cheated by their employer,” said Bisignano. “However, low wage workers are at the greatest risk of wage theft and have the most to lose. We can help by simply helping all Iowans get paid for their work.”
Wage theft reforms passed the Democratically-controlled Iowa Senate in 2011 and 2014 but were not debated in the Republican-controlled Iowa House. Governor Branstad has not expressed any support for new action against wage theft in Iowa.
For more information on Wage Theft in Iowa please visit the Iowa Policy Project’s Executive Summary of “Wage Theft in Iowa”