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'Wage Theft' Lawsuits Are on the Rise

Workers say they're not getting their wages
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 1, 2014 3:10 PM CDT
'Wage Theft' Lawsuits Are on the Rise
Burger King employee Brittany Buckhannon, 24, right, demonstrates during a protest for higher wages and worker's unions outside a McDonald's restaurant, Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Atlanta.   (AP Photo/David Goldman)

(Newser) – More US workers are joining wage-theft lawsuits that accuse their bosses of failing to pay their proper hours or wages, the New York Times reports. "Sometimes I’d work 60, even 90 days in a row," said a Mexican immigrant who joined a lawsuit against the Schneider trucking company. "They never paid overtime." That lawsuit nailed Schneider for $21 million, one of several cases against companies like Walmart, FedEx, and McDonald's. The Labor Department collected nearly $1 billion in wages in 2010, mostly for immigrant workers, and is fining companies that allegedly punish workers who complain.

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Why now? Structural changes may be afoot as more companies outsource to temp agencies, subcontractors, and franchise operators that force employers to cut costs, says Labor Department chief David Weil. But business groups say the lawsuits are part of a coordinated effort by labor to increase wages. "These are opportunistic lawsuits," says a lawyer for employers. At the same time, officials in Seattle—which just passed a $15 minimum wage—are nervous about collecting those dollars as wage theft allegedly increases, the Seattle Weekly notes. "Everyone is aware that passing a $15-an-hour minimum wage was historic," says a Seattle official. "But if we cannot enforce that, we haven’t accomplished much." (Read more wage theft stories.)

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