The idea is that, while the rich have gotten richer in these post-recession years, wages for the vast majority of Americans have remained flat or even decreased when the cost of inflation is calculated. Wealth hasn't trickled down to the middle and working classes at all, and some politicians want to adjust the playing field.
The city of Los Angeles has been sitting on a wage-increase proposal of one form or another for five years. Momentum is starting to bring the matter to a head, and today labor leaders, community leaders, and workers will stage a rally ahead of a meeting of the City Council's Jobs and Economic Development Committee.
The committee will be weighing a proposal by City Council members Gil Cedillo, Paul Koretz and Mike Bonin that would "reactivate" the pay issue and tie an anti-wage-theft law to city minimum-wage increases.
Ideas include denying permits to businesses found to be in violation and creating a misdemeanor crime category for wage theft.
A UCLA study found in 2010 that L.A. is America's wage theft capital, with about $26 million a week being stolen from local workers.
Tia Koonse, legal and policy research manager at the UCLA Labor Center, says employees most often ripped off come from the garment, car wash, restaurant, domestic, and nonunion construction sectors.
Because wage theft, including withholding breaks, overtime pay or rightful tips, nearly one-third of workers in L.A. are victimized on the job and effectively take home less than minimum wage, UCLA says.
The City Council tried to address the pay matter in 2009, but the City Attorney's office, at the time headed by a man whom Koonse described as "business friendly," apparently sat on its duty to produce draft legislation.
Proponents say that, with momentum increasing in favor of a higher minimum wage, now is the time to address wage theft anew.
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"In L.A. we have more of those underpaid workers than in any other city in the country," Koonse told us. "When we talk about raising minimum wage, we really need to talk about enforcement."
Raising the wage on paper won't change much if workers are still getting taken to the cleaners by their employees.
The rally starts at 12:30 p.m. at City Hall's south steps.