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Faith Action Network urges congregations
to learn about the impact of ‘wage theft’

Concerned about poverty, homelessness, hunger, unemployment and health care, the Faith Action Network of Washington has set a priority to work for an end to “wage theft” in the state.

So often the onus is on those living on low incomes—discredited in some political circles as “dependent.”  Some conversations in faith communities seek to turn the discussion around, suggesting that some depend on corporate welfare through tax subsidies, tax loopholes, government contracts with built-in high executive pay and profits, and campaign-donation payback.

What is wage theft?  When an employer pays less than minimum wage, doesn’t pay for overtime work, confiscates tips, forces employees to work off the wage clock, misclassifies employees as contractors, makes illegal deductions, denies meal breaks or withholds a final paycheck.

For generations, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 has guaranteed rights to workers, but some companies violate the standards set.  The gender pay gap between men and women continues despite the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

Paul Benz, FAN’s director of legislative affairs, said that “too often employers prey on workers who live below the federal poverty line or who are living one paycheck from foreclosure or homelessness.”

Such vulnerable employees may accept low wages, even though they legally deserve more.  They are quiet, fearing that if they report the problem, the employer will retaliate, and they will lose their job.

Underpaid workers often have to rely on government assistance for food and other necessities.  So who’s dependent?  In fact, if employers recognize the interdependence of the economic sectors and the need for a healthy middle class, would they find it in their self-interest to pay just wages?

Ethical companies face a disadvantage as they compete in the market with companies that engage in these practices.

As conservative-progressive arguments surface during political campaigns, conservative voices say labor regulations strangle economic growth and job creation, while progressives say the protections are needed especially in difficult economic times.

While some companies illegally underpay employees, many overpay executives—redistributing the wealth workers create to their bosses.

To prevent wage theft, it’s important for employees and contractors to have clear understandings of the basis for their pay—with rates of pay per hour, shift, day, week, month, piece or commission.  Bonuses, incentives and benefits must also be clear. Unions developed to protect workers’ incomes, benefits and wellbeing.

The Faith Action Network’s Advocacy Summit at 4:30 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 14, at First United Methodist Church in Ellensburg will be an opportunity to learn about wage theft along with surfacing other issues of concern to be considered as priorities for common education and action through FAN’s programs.

Social concerns committees in congregations might research and gather resources for education and might be in solidarity with those needing to raise their voices and report infractions. 

Mary Stamp - The Fig Tree Editor