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L.A. Employers Are Keeping Your Cash, City Leaders Say

L.A. Employers Are Keeping Your Cash, City Leaders Say

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Two L.A. City Council members say local employers are ripping off local workers, essentially skimming money from their pay at alarming rates.

Gilbert Cedillo and Paul Koretz proposed a law yesterday that would, if approved, "criminalize the practice of wage theft in the City of Los Angeles," says Cedillo's office.

What the problem is? The duo says L.A. workers lose $26.2 million a week to wage theft by their employers, a figure that tops any other city in America. Labor researchers say "off the clock" work, break violations and other scams are used by companies to underpay employees:

The Cedillo-Koretz proposal was sent to the City Attorney's office to see what it can come up with in terms of punishment and "tracking enforcement," Cedillo's office says. An ordinance would still have to be drafted and then approved by the full City Council to become law.

The council has, in the past, supported state legislative efforts to crack down on so-called wage theft. In 2010 it voted to back stiffer state regulation.

Despite current state laws, however, worker advocates have argued that it's difficult for employees to get their money back, even when the state sanctions companies or workers win civil claims. The Cedillo-Koretz idea is to create an immediate threat of criminal action when companies violate wage laws.

2008 study found that working "off the clock" was the most common violation. Women and Latino immigrants suffered the most incidences of wage violations, researchers found.

A 2010 follow-up report on Los Angeles wage violations by the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment found that nearly 1 in 5 local workers faced "off the clock" violations. Workers that suffered wage theft lost an average of $2,070 a year, researchers found.

Cedillo:

There are employers out there that take advantage of some of the hardest working and most underpaid employees, some of which are afraid to speak up because of their immigration status. I have and will continue to help those living in the shadows and without a voice. This motion will create an ordinance to safeguard employees from these predatory practices.

The proposal is supported by the Los Angeles Coalition Against Wage Theft, which includes the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, UCLA Labor Center, Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund, CLEAN Carwash Campaign, 9to5 Coalition of Working Women, Garment Worker Center, Pilipino Workers Center, labor groups, and other organizations, Cedillo's office says.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow LA Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.