Houston Council Considers Punishment For Wage Theft

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Companies who withhold wages from their employees often get away with it without any penalties. But Houston city councilmembers may take action to prevent such companies from doing business with the city.

Wage theft happens most often to low-income workers.

It can take many forms — employers may withhold overtime pay or tips, or delay paychecks or take illegal deductions.

Laura Perez Boston is executive director of the Fe y Justicia  Worker's Center. She says here in Houston, construction and restaurant workers are frequent victims of wage theft.

"So obviously this has an acute impact on the economic stability of working families, and especially is impacting low wage workers who are already living in poverty. So that's why it's really such an egregious workplace abuse."

The City of Houston is putting together an ordinance to penalize wage theft.

Any employer convicted of or assessed an administrative penalty for wage theft would be ineligible for city contracts. Furthermore, the city could refuse to grant any necessary permits and operating licenses to that company for two years following the conviction.

"So this is important because of course not every company is interested in city contracts. But the majority of businesses will need some type of permit or license to continue operating in the city."

City Council's Public Safety Committee will hear testimony on the proposed ordinance tomorrow morning.

A 2008 survey of more than 4,000 low-wage workers in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York found severe and widespread wage theft in the nation's metropolitan areas.

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Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...