New legislation, backed by California State Assembly Speaker and former San Diego City Councilwoman Toni Atkins, would seek ways to close loopholes that allow businesses to get away with wage theft.
Senate Bill 558 would allow the state Labor Commissioner to go after businesses that are not paying wages owed to overworked and underpaid employees, such as Sandra Ortega.
“The hardest part for me throughout this whole time was seeing how dehumanizing my paycheck was. I couldn't afford anything,” she said.
Ortega, a victim of wage theft, told her story in front of Atkins and a room full of 300 other workers during a town hall at St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego Saturday.
Many in the room face the same challenges as Ortega.
“I wouldn't get paid overtime, I wouldn't get breaks,” Ortega said. “I would never get my check on time. I would get paid less than minimum wage."
According to a joint study by San Diego State University and the Center on Policy Initiatives, 77% of workers in the food industry reported having been victims of wage theft during the past year. One third of those surveyed said theft from their paychecks occurs regularly.
“When I would bring these issues to the owner of the company he would just ignore me he would be like oh just do your job as a supervisor just ignore it but I couldn't because when payday came and I saw my workers with tears in their eyes, I felt bad,” Patricia Marquez a former Supervisor to NBC7.
Marquez filed a complaint against her company and won.
“I was granted $25,000, but because the way the laws are at this moment, I cannot collect any money,” Marquez said.
Common forms of wage theft include paying less than the minimum wage, paying workers for fewer hours than were worked, misclassifying workers as independent contractors, or failing to pay overtime rates as required by law. Wage theft drains billions of dollars from California’s economy each year.
The bill goes in front of the Assembly floor next week.