En EspaƱol Know Your Rights
Source: PBS Nightly Business Report
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Low Wage Worker Rip-off

SUSIE GHARIB: More anxiety today about the job market as a new survey showed
American businesses cut more jobs in August. According to ADP Employer Services,
companies eliminated 298,000 jobs, more than economists expected. But on the
positive side, experts point out that the pace of losses is much less than in
any month since last September. The report comes just two days before the Labor
Department releases the nation’s employment report. Also today, a new study
focuses on series issue in the workplace. Some low-wage workers are getting
cheated out of wages they’ve already earned. Darren Gersh reports.

DARREN GERSH, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT: For 14 years, Trinidad
Carranza worked here at this car wash in New York’s Long Island. He didn’t
realize he wasn’t being paid the required minimum wage for over a decade, not
until customers asked how much he was earning.

TRANSLATION OF: TRINIDAD CARRANZA, UNDERPAID WORKER: And we responded $2.80
to $3.35 and his customers would say, incredible that that’s all that you’re
earning.

GERSH: When Carranza finally complained to his boss, he says the manager
laughed. That’s when Carranza and his coworkers filed a complaint with the state
department of labor. They won and Carranza received $7,600 in back wages.

CARRANZA: It taught me a lot, especially the pay for medical treatment,
because I had a workplace injury there as well.

GERSH: Employment attorney Elizabeth Wagoner works at a community group
called Make the Road New York
. She helps Carranza and others claim the money
they are owed by their bosses. Wagoner says she has seen more cases like this as
the recession hits employers.

ELIZABETH WAGONER, STAFF ATTORNEY, MAKE THE ROAD NEW YORK: We do have many
more people, daily construction workers, some restaurant workers who just aren’t
paid at all and are going for weeks or months at a time without receiving any
wages.

GERSH: Academics and community researchers are confirming wage violations are
rampant. According to a study of over 4,000 low-wage workers released today, one
in four workers surveyed were paid less than the minimum wage. Researchers found
a typical worker making $339 a week lost about $51 or 15 percent of their
average weekly earnings. Most of those affected worked at small businesses, but
one in six were employed in businesses with 100 or more workers. Christine Owens
is executive director of the National Employment Law Project, which co-authored
the study. She says employers rarely get caught underpaying workers and when
they do, they are simply ordered to pay what the worker should have earned.

CHRISTINE OWENS, EXEC. DIR., NATIONAL EMPLOYMENT LAW PROJECT: So the
penalties themselves are not strong enough to be a real deterrent to violation
and then when you couple that with absence of aggressive enforcement, it’s just
a field day for employers who want to break the law.

GERSH: As for Carranza, he left the car wash about three months ago. He’s now
urging other workers to demand their lawful wages.

CARRANZA: We need to wake up and really to improve our situations and to
improve our jobs.

GERSH: Researchers found workers who do complain about their wages are often
threatened by their bosses and many low-wage workers also figure they’d face
similar problems in the other jobs they could get in this economy, all of which
explains why many workers stay in jobs that pay less than the law requires.
Darren Gersh, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, Washington.