11 a.m. Monday, June 25, 2012 at KIWA 3465 W. 8th Street @ Hobart
Koreatown, LOS ANGELES – On June 25th at 11 AM, KIWA is holding a press conference with partner organizations from the Los Angeles Coalition Against Wage Theft and Koreatown workers. KIWA also announces the launch of its employer education campaign to encourage employers to do right. Speakers include Tia Koonse of the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education, Antonio Bernabe of CHIRLA, Alexandra Suh and Kwang Choi of KIWA, and workers C. Kim, Robert Kim and Jose Morales.
Los Angeles is the wage theft capital of the country. Violations amount to $26 million per week, or $1.4 billion per year—more than twice that of New York City or Chicago. “Wage theft refers to any time you make less than your employer is legally required to pay you,” says Victor Narro, Project Director at the UCLA Downtown Labor Center and co-author of a recent report on the subject. “Prime examples include making less than minimum wage, less than time-and-a-half for overtime, or working off-the-clock or through meal and rest breaks.” There are 750,000 low-wage workers in Los Angeles County. A staggering two-thirds experience wage violations in any given week, according to Wage Theft and Workplace Violations in Los Angeles. One-third made less than minimum wage; 80% were cheated of overtime. All told, the average worker lost over $2,600, or 15%, of their annual income. Violations occur in all 22 low-wage industries, particularly in garment, restaurant, domestic services, and residential construction.
Working people in Koreatown experience extreme levels of wage theft. KIWA’s Worker Empowerment Clinic assists immigrant workers to file hundreds of thousands of dollars in carefully substantiated wage claims each month—millions each year. “People are working incredibly hard to pay their rent and purchase groceries and school supplies. Often workers receive less than minimum wage, and we are seeing Korean and Latino workers who have not been paid at all for weeks and even months of work,” said KIWA Organizer Rebeca Ronquillo. Alexandra Suh, KIWA Executive Director, stated, “This has to stop. All workers have rights. When some employers cheat, it makes it difficult for employers who want to pay fair wages to do so. How can an honest employer compete with one who pays $50 a day, or bounces paychecks? Instead of strangling the workers and families who are critical to our community’s future, we can lift up everyone by ensuring the rights of working people.”
Councilmembers Richard Alarcon (CD 7) and Paul Koretz (CD 5) co-authored a 2009 motion ordering the City Attorney to draft a Los Angeles Wage Theft Ordinance. After languishing for nearly three years, the Coalition is demanding progress.
The Los Angeles Wage Theft Ordinance targets the worst offenders. It increases penalties and fines while creating a Wage Theft and Tax Compliance Permit that can be revoked for recidivist violators who refuse to pay proven judgments, thereby keeping them out of business until they do right by workers. It uses penalties and fines to fund its own enforcement. Since the 2009 motion calling for the Ordinance, more than a dozen cities have passed their own versions, including San Francisco, Seattle, and New York City. In addition to co-sponsors Alarcon and Koretz, Councilmember Ed Reyes (CD 1) supports the Wage Theft Ordinance, and more are expected to join.