Charleston, WV – Wage theft is one of the most prevalent but under-reported problems confronting low-wage workers. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the estimated value of wages stolen through violations of federal and state minimum wage laws was $15 billion in 2015, easily eclipsing the $12.7 billion stolen through all reported robberies, burglaries, larcenies, and car thefts in the same year. And that number represents just one form of wage-theft violation.In a report released today, Wage Theft in West Virginia: Solutions for a Hidden Epidemic, the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy analyzes how wage theft has impacted workers in the Mountain State.
From 2008-2017, $7.7 million in back wages were recovered in more than 15,000 cases of wage theft in West Virginia. Based on national estimates, West Virginia workers likely lost as much as $90 million to minimum wage violations in 2015. The West Virginia industry where the largest value of wages was underpaid was full-service restaurants, in which employers had to pay more than 2,000 employees $1.3 million in back wages. The second-highest amount of back wages owed was by the building construction industry, whose employers repaid nearly $557,000 to 132 employees.
Despite these reparations, many workers do not receive back pay from reported violations, with women are more likely to be victims of wage theft than their white male counterparts and African American workers suffer wage theft at three times the rate suffered by white workers.
“Employers who commit wage theft take tens of millions of dollars out of the pockets of working West Virginians every year,” stated Matthew Massie, author of the report and WVCBP summer policy associate. “State agencies and the Legislature must take proactive steps to protect West Virginia’s workforce from unscrupulous business practices.”
West Virginia lawmakers can help stop wage theft by eliminating the separate tipped minimum wage, requiring treble damages for violations, and penalizing employers by revoking their ability to do business in or with the state.
Read the full report here.
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