Washington Legislature Takes Up 'Wage Theft' Bill

Jan 31, 2013

A proposed bill in Olympia aims to crackdown on employers who shortchange their workers. The measure would create harsher penalties for businesses that skimp on minimum wage or overtime pay, or just flat out fail to hand over a paycheck.

This type of thing is often referred to as “wage theft." Advocates of the bill say the victims of wage theft tend to be low-income workers and undocumented immigrants.

A hearing on the bill Thursday in Olympia drew a mixed crowd.

Susan Bittner owns a flooring company in Seattle. She says some businesses classify workers as contractors rather than employees in order to pay them less. She thinks this proposed bill would help level the playing field.

“I’ve seen over the years the independent contractors being abused and misclassified, and my ability to compete with the underground economy is near impossible," Bittner says.

Others said that some employers classify people as subcontractors to avoid paying insurance premiums and other employee benefits. The bill would create a new test to ensure that businesses are correctly classifying their workers.

Tom Kwieciak is with the Building Industry Association of Washington. His group opposes the bill, partly because he says it fails to address key part of the problem.

“That in a large percentage of these cases, the worker is complicit in the arrangement here," Kwieciak says. "They know what’s going on. They’re doing this to get paid cash without all the deductions from their paychecks. Yet there’s no penalties or sanctions in the legislation that deal with the worker at all.”

Kwieciak also says the proposed bill is unnecessary because laws already exist to address wage theft. He argues the state needs to do a better job of enforcing what’s currently on the books.

Copyright 2013 KUOW