Open house to offer assistance to victims of wage theft
By Jean Torkelson
Workers who believe they are not being paid fairly for their labor are invited to an open house at Centro San Juan Diego on Feb. 20 to file a complaint with the federal government.
The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor, which is directing the event, has assembled a large coterie of federal and state officials, legal advisors, Spanish translators and the Mexican consulate “to assist workers with wage theft,” as its official flyer puts it. The open house is open to both English and Spanish speakers.
“Wage theft is a pervasive problem for low-wage workers and we’re trying to do an outreach to low-wage workers to make them aware of what wage theft is,” said Ellen Glover, community outreach and planning specialist for the Wage and Hour Division in Denver.
She said wage theft can run the gamut, from not being paid the legal minimum wage, to being denied pay for overtime worked, or being denied lunch breaks, or intimidated into working “volunteer” hours for free, or not being paid at all.
Based on a worker’s complaint the federal agency has the authority to require the company to turn over two years’ of its employment data to investigate the complaint and other possible irregularities in the company’s books, including pay stubs and personnel records. It also has the authority to interview co-workers about a case and to open new cases if they see further irregularities in the books, Glover said.
The complaint service is free and the worker’s name is kept confidential to prevent retaliation by the company, she said.
The hope is that between 100 to 200 people turn up, she said, adding that a good crowd at Centro San Juan Diego means that the division will likely expand its open houses to other locations.
Federal oversight of wages and hours is not new—the division goes back to the Roosevelt administration, Glover noted—but she believes this is the first time the division has used the “open house” concept in Denver to encourage workers to come forward to file formal complaints.
Those who lack employee pay stubs or proof of work history will be advised how to get those materials together. Undocumented workers or those with any other kind of legal or immigration issues, other than wage disputes, will be able to discuss their cases with volunteers from the Spanish Speaking Lawyers Association and the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association.
Also on hand to assist will be about a half dozen investigators from the wage and hour division and their support staff, as well as staff from the U.S. Department of Labor, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and legal advisors, some of them from the University of Denver Law School legal clinic.
Glover said the expectation is most cases can be wrapped up within 90 days.
Jean Torkelson: 303-715-3262; www.twitter.com/DCRegister