Low-Wage Workers Not Getting Their Due

Ongoing exploitation of low-wage workers is only getting worse in the down economy, according to KNBC legal analyst Royal Oakes.

“The fact is, people tend to cut corners,” Oakes said. “Employers like to take advantage sometimes.”

More than a quarter of low-wage workers were paid less than the minimum wage, and more than three-quarters of those who worked overtime were not paid the legally required rate, according to a 2006 study that remains relevant today, Oakes said.

“I’m not surprised, given our economic climate,” he said.

The Russell Sage Foundation, in a report called “Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers,” found multiple violations of employment and labor laws in Los Angeles, as well as in New York and Chicago.

The study was based on surveys of 4,200 workers in low-wage industries.

One of the major factors in rampant underpayment and overwork is the fear of retaliation.


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“A lot of workers are afraid if they step up to the plate and complain, there will be a way found to fire them,” Oakes said.

Workers are worried about where they’ll find another job if they get fired or laid-off.

There are ways for workers to protect themselves, Oakes said.

“Document, document, document,” he said.

A detailed recounting of any run-ins with management can help maintain job security, he said.

“Point by point, bullet point, timeline, who did what to you, at what occasion,” he said. “Then you can go to the feds, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.”

“You can go to the state commission or a lawyer and say this is what happened to me.”

One good way to determine if labor laws are being violated is to apply the 8-40 rule.

“If you are forced to work more than 8 hours in a day, you get time and a half overtime,” he said. “If you go over 12 hours, you get double-time; if, in a week you go over 40 hours, you get time and half overtime.”

The first stop should always be human resources, Oakes said. “Start inside the company, then go to the federal or state government.”

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