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Houston wage theft ordinance becomes model for other communities

Despite federal laws that require employers to pay employees the wages they are due, about 4.3 percent of workers throughout the U.S. are paid less than minimum wage, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At 6.4 percent, Texas is higher than the national average for unfair wages. Many businesses in the state, particularly construction companies, cheat their workers out of deserved pay by denying overtime wages, failing to pay the state-mandated minimum wage or even paying nothing at all.

Immigrants and undocumented workers are among those most affected by unfair wage practices. In a highly competitive job market, many avoid starting wage and hour disputes out of fear of being replaced or being reported to immigration authorities.

However, many workers are fighting back. Civil rights groups have been campaigning to get El Paso lawmakers to adopt a wage theft ordinance, modeled on one that was passed in Houston last year. The El Paso City Council recently agreed to consider the ordinance, which would allow employees to file wage claims against their employers. This effort allowed a construction employee and 12 of his co-workers to successfully file a suit in small claims court and win the money they were due, after the construction company only paid them a fraction of what they were owed.

Texas businesses can protect from lawsuits by paying employees the wages they are entitled to. Not only can this prevent employment litigation, but it will keep businesses from further repercussions, such as being rendered ineligible for city contracts, licenses and permits.

Source: New America Media, "Immigrant Workers Fight 'Wage Theft' in Texas," Amy Roe, Oct. 26, 2014

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