U.S. Steps Up Wage-Law Enforcement

U.S. Steps Up Wage-Law Enforcement

WASHINGTON – The Labor Department is hiring 150 more investigators to enforce wage and child labor laws in the wake of a government probe that found the agency failed to effectively fight wage theft over the last few years.

The stepped-up hiring is a signal to employers that attempts to dodge full payment of wages will be met with new focus, and the latest sign of the increasingly vigorous approach to workplace regulation President Barack Obama vowed his Labor Department would take.

In addition to the 150 investigators being hired to help enforce wage and child labor laws, the department is hiring another 100 investigators in Wage and Hour as part of the government stimulus plan to ensure contractors on stimulus projects are in compliance with applicable laws. The total of 250 will increase staff in the division by more than a third.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis in early March assured the nation’s workers that her arrival at the agency means “there’s a new sheriff in town.” Last week she targeted worker safety by speeding up the process of setting rules to protect against occupational exposure to a harmful chemical sometimes used in making microwave-popcorn flavoring.

On Wednesday she said she takes the results of the government probe into wage theft “very seriously” and is committed to ensuring all workers are paid at least the minimum wage and proper overtime. The agency had already begun hiring additional investigators before the final results of the probe were issued, part of what it says is an expanded 2009 budget for the Wage and Hour Division. Ms. Solis said in a statement that adding more staff would help “reinvigorate” the agency’s work following a loss of experienced personnel over several years.

The results of the probe, conducted by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, were detailed at a hearing Wednesday sponsored by the House Education & Labor Committee. GAO staffers said Wage and Hour Division employees frequently responded inadequately to complaints in a variety of ways: advising callers to get their own lawyers, dropping cases after employers claimed they were unable to pay, failing to be persistent if employers didn’t return phone calls, and failing to follow up on complaints at all.

In one fictitious undercover call made to the agency by GAO staff, the complainant said he’d seen children working in a meatpacking plant in California. The person who received the call never followed up on the complaint, which like many others wasn’t recorded in the agency database, the GAO report found. In another situation, an agency worker encouraged the caller to have his own conversation with the employer in question.

“You really see an array of failures,” said Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the committee that held the hearing. “It adds up to very serious money” for U.S. workers, he said.

Of the larger complaints made, 19% weren’t adequately investigated though 81% were handled appropriately.

Mr. Miller said he plans to ask the agency what it will do to address the problems but will give new officials there a chance to get up to speed first. No one from the Labor Department was present at the hearing Wednesday, an absence the committee said it was told was due to a lack of political appointees at this point. An initial hearing on the probe was held in July to review earlier results, and Labor Department staffers attended then, said Mr. Miller.

Mr. Miller said he’ll recommend that the agency hire and properly train enough workers to fulfill its mission. Hundreds of cases weren’t assigned an investigator for more than a year after the initial complaint was made, delays that likely left victims with no further options because of the two-year statute of limitations on wage theft.

Committee members said the failures were more about insufficient staff and problems with customer service, recordkeeping and technology than a concerted effort by the Bush administration to ignore the law. GAO staff said there was no evidence that Bush administration officials had directed employees not to enforce the law, though the Obama administration has criticized President Bush for not regulating labor laws vigorously enough.

Write to Melanie Trottman at melanie.trottman@wsj.com

:smiley: Perhaps valid complaints will no longer fall on deaf ears.

Perhaps you should round up all the drivers at your shop, pull your money & hire a labor law attorney on your behalfs…Other than cut & pasting certain sections , underlining, bolding sections that sound good to your argument…You know nothing about the law…Quit grasping at straws, posting to people at TTPG & here & instead…Round up all the drivers at your shop, retain an attorney & get the ball moving…You’re doing nothing productive posting here to a bunch of strangers…Not only that, you’re insinuating that they are breaking labor laws, when you have ZERO proof of that…That is not only rude, but makes you look like a JERK…Take care of your own issues, in your own backyard, where it’ll really make a difference for yourself & the other drivers at your shop…

Last week she targeted worker safety by speeding up the process of setting rules to protect against occupational exposure to a harmful chemical sometimes used in making microwave-popcorn flavoring.

This is especially beneficial to the pizza community. :roll:

Do you think it is a good thing if the DOL ignores enforcing flagrant violations of labor law?

Since there are many tens of thousands of pizza delivery drivers in the US and the vast majority of them are not getting 55 cents per mile as the DOL advises, or who may have other wage and hour issues that were ignored before, I think it is VERY BENEFICIAL information that appeals to a wide array of employees in the pizza community.

This article puts those who are violating the law on notice that what was ignored before will no longer be allowed to continue.

Obviously you don’t know how to read. I didn’t say the whole article, I just took out the tiny piece about the popcorn… Maybe you need glasses? OR you’re blatantly trying to start an argument AS USUAL.

It looks like DOL doesn’t care too much.

No one from the Labor Department was present at the hearing Wednesday

You were the one “blatantly trying to start an argument” by attempting to imply that “the tiny piece about the popcorn” made the entire article irrelevant to “the pizza community”.

Do you have a problem with the DOL increasing efforts to enforce the law?

Nope. Good luck to them and to you.

Apparently you’re putting words in peoples mouth as you usually do. You thought you knew what I meant, but didn’t.

You claim you don’t “have a problem with the DOL increasing efforts to enforce the law”, yet you continue to post in this thread. Seems to me that YOU are the one “blatantly trying to start an argument”.

uhhhh… whats there to argue?

Advises? Wait a second - does the DOL require 55 cents per mile or just advise 55 cents per mile?

Laws usually don’t “advise” anything. That’s far too ambiguous.

Hey Gregster…

Just for humor…i am guessing that you are a veteran…like myself…and when it comes to FAIR WAGES, maybe the goverment should look at themselves and the low wages paid to soldiers which causes their spouses to NEED TO WORK to make ends meet…and then they cannot even find work on base.

NOW…my drivers make great money and my newest post is just to see where everyone else lies on this matter of pay…but I do agree that the goverment should look at themselves first sometimes.