The cost of theft to Americans is highest for wage theft. The Economic Policy Center estimates that workers lose $50 billion in pay each year.
Every year, thousands of workers in Texas submit claims to the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) in an effort to get the money they are promised. Recovering stolen pay is, however, frequently challenging and infrequent, according to a CBS News investigation.
When his employer, a tiny renovation company, failed to pay Oscar Torres for 10 days of labour in 2018 totalling $1,400, he filed a wage theft claim with TWC.
The subcontractor simply vanished, according to Torres. “I’m behind on my rent. To be able to travel to a different employment, I had to reduce my spending on food and gas “[English translation of Spanish]
Torres’ situation is typical among low-wage construction labourers in Texas. A study by the University of Texas and the Employees Defense Project found that 1 in 5 construction workers had experienced payment delays.
When the TWC examined Torres’ case, Torres won a judgement for the money he was entitled, but, he has yet to receive any of his owed wages as the state has, so far, been unable to collect the money from his former employer.
The TWC awarded Torres unpaid wages four times over the course of the previous four years from four different employers. Torres hasn’t received payment in any of the cases.
According to Torres, “I believe in justice and justice here in Texas, which is why I keep bringing claims because I have faith that I will eventually be able to collect my stolen money.” [English translation of Spanish]
Following filing a wage theft claim with the state, thousands of Texas workers each year find themselves, like Torres, without compensation, according to a CBS News investigation.
According to TWC Executive Director Ed Serna, the state’s wage theft claim procedure is generally effective given the resources at his disposal. 37 employees work for TWC and are devoted to investigating wage theft claims.
“We always keep the individual in mind,” he stated. “Our focus is on trying to assist Texans, whether they are corporations or individual Texans.
Since 2010, Texas has seen a rise in pay theft claims of roughly 150,000, according to data examined by CBS News. More than half of those were rejected by state investigators due to lack of jurisdiction, insufficient proof, fabricated claims, or workers withdrawing their claims. This leaves 62,000 cases where state investigators found that although some workers were in fact entitled salaries, they were not all paid. According to state data, the TWC has directly recovered money for workers in 37,000 claims since 2010.
According to Sean Goldhammer, an attorney for the Workers Defense Project, the state’s claims process can frequently feel unfair to Texas workers.
“You may have been engaging for a year, but you have nothing to show for it,” he said.
The absence of sanctions for companies who don’t pay, according to Goldhammer, whose organisation aids construction employees in navigating the state’s claims procedure, is one of the main issues with the Texas system.
According to reports from employees, their boss made fun of them when they informed them of their rights, he claimed. Given that there are ways to avoid paying their employees, they (employers) “appear to be very comfortable with the arrangement.”
A list of Texas companies who owe over $2,000 in unpaid wages is published on the TWC website. The list presently has almost 10,000 names. The TWC also imposes administrative liens and warrant holds on these businesses, prohibiting them from doing business with the state or collecting money owing to them by a state agency.
There is a possibility of bringing criminal charges against employers, but Serna claimed this rarely happens. He claimed that the majority of the time that his office has referred cases, local district attorneys have declined to pursue charges due to the cases’ generally low value.
According to the TWC, it typically takes two months for its investigators to reach a conclusion in a case. However, according to data examined by CBS News, it might take several more months for workers to recover lost pay between appeals and collection.