In the US, two-thirds of low-wage workers experience wage theft, and as politicians wring their hands over changes in the minimum wage, families suffer in poverty while working full time for salaries that do not cover their expenses.
An investigation of wage practices in the restaurant industry found out what happens when workers are not paid what they are legally owed, and the answer is grim.
More and more, low-wage restaurant workers in the US are fighting an uphill battle to be paid what they are owed.
One study estimated that low-wage workers – over 30 million Americans – lose 15 percent of their income each year, with the restaurant industry among the worst offenders.
According to the federal department of labor, 84 percent of sit-down restaurants inspected in the three years from 2010 to 2012 were in violation of wage laws.
Meanwhile, the food services industry is organized and its lobby is a powerful opponent waging a battle against increased minimum wage and worker protections because it spends millions of dollars each year to stop regulations and laws.
Among the Trump administration’s first actions was to reverse progress made during the Obama era that would have increased wages by changing who gets overtime pay, and including workers who make under $52,000.
The way it works now, companies can avoid paying OT to any full-time workers making as little as $23,660 — or $455 a week — by classifying them as “exempt” and paying them as salaried employees, rather than hourly.
That means when they don’t get overtime pay even if they work more than 40 hours a week.
And it’s not just managers in lower-paid jobs in this bucket. Exempt positions also include administrators and sales employees, among others.
The expectation among policy experts is that the Department of Labor will propose raising the $23,660 income threshold, most likely to somewhere between $42,000 and $52,000. The agency may also amend how “exempt” duties are determined.
The liberal Economic Policy Institute estimates that 3.5 million more workers would become eligible for overtime pay if the threshold were raised to $42,000 or 6.1 million workers would qualify if the threshold is hiked to $52,000.
A threshold of at least $51,168 — or $984 a week — would provide automatic overtime eligibility for 47% of workers. That’s up from 12% today but still below the 65% eligible in 1975.
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