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For now, the fastest way for many workers to recover back wages is at the most local level — often by standing on the sidewalk with fliers and protest signs in front of the offending employer’s business, said Kim Bobo, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice in Chicago and author of “Wage Theft in America.”
“It is easy to disrupt business and cause a stir at these small places that depend on community support,” said Bobo. “Direct action is incredibly effective and empowering for workers. The employers respond.”
Bobo said one Chicago pizza place owner fired several employees recently and refused to give them their final paycheck. None of the employees had been paid overtime; some weren’t being paid minimum wage.
The fired employees organized a gathering in front of the business, handing out fliers to passersby warning: “Don’t buy pizza topped with exploitation.” By the end of the week, the former employees had received the pay they were owed.
In Arkansas, restaurant employees fed up with not being paid their full wages posted messages on their company’s Facebook page describing the unfair pay practice. They, too, were paid.
But longer-term solutions are needed, including stronger enforcement at the state and national levels, said Bobo.
“We need the ethical business community to step up and demand a level playing field,” she said. “If you are paying employees fairly, and the guy down the street, your competitor, is practicing wage theft, it is hurting you. It steals from the workers, and it steals from the public coffers.”
2012 © Equal Voice for America’s Families Newspaper. Reprinted with permission.
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