California agency battling wage theft too short-staffed to do its job

Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters; iStock

For decades California’s lawmakers and regulators have taken aim at employers who rob their workers of pay, overtime premiums, tips and other forms of compensation.

Just last year, legislators made certain instances of wage theft a felony. They also fixed their sights on wage theft in the garment industry, eliminating some longstanding pay practices that often resulted in workers being paid below the minimum wage.

Earlier this month, California Labor Commissioner Lilia García-Brower recovered $282,000 in stolen wages and penalties for 22 workers of a Long Beach car wash using a law enacted in January that empowers her office to place liens on the property of problematic worksites.

California’s laws targeting wage theft — which is the failure by bosses to pay workers what they are owed — make it a leader among states, national labor experts say. But in practice, enforcing those laws has not been easy.


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