Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What does wage theft look like?

       Wage theft has many different faces, and they're all ugly. There are so many ways that unscrupulous businesses are cheating workers. As we push the Shelby County Commission to pass a wage theft ordinance, I want to share just a few examples of what wage theft looks like.

       Take the example of Jenny Meyers,* a Rhodes College student who worked at the downtown TGI Friday' as a waitress. Her typical day as a server was, for the most part, pretty good. But then she began to notice something. Sometimes her paychecks had big gaps in them that didn't make sense. "I'd be missing $100, $150, and I had to make sure I scrutinized my check and kept up with everything," Jenny says. She started writing down all the tips customers left her on credit cards and keeping receipts. She later found out the payroll manager had been stealing her tips, along with those of other servers.

     That wasn't the only wage theft Jenny experienced at the restaurant. On nights when her tips didn't bring her up to the hourly minimum wage, the restaurant would claim that she received more cash tips than she actually did. That way they would not have to pay the difference between her tips and federal minimum wage, like the law requires restaurants to do. "I'd go in on a school night when I had a test the next day, come home at 2:00 am from closing, exhausted, with only $15," Jenny says.

     The experience of Jamal Jones* shows another kind of wage theft. He works as an oil change technician. At his current job at working for a shop in Bartlett that is part of a national chain, he's been asked by his manager to work on cars when he was on his unpaid lunch break.

    At another oil change shop where Jamal worked for 7 months, he was expected to work off the clock on an almost daily basis. Whenever there were no cars in the shop, his supervisor would tell him to clock out. But he had to stay on the job, and clean the shop while he wasn't being paid. As soon as another car would drive up, he was told to clock back in.

     Jamal knows of plenty of other employees at oil change shops who are asked to work while on break. Workers are often afraid they'll lose their jobs if they say no. "You're not being forced," he says, "but at the same time, it's a thing you can't do anything about. It makes you feel like you're being used, like you don't have rights."

     Jenny and Jamal's stories are just the tip of the iceberg. National research shows that 2 out of 3 low-wage workers experience wage theft. That's why we need a Shelby County wage theft ordinance now. Want to get involved in the campaign for the ordinance? We'd love to have your participation.

*name has been changed

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