-Ruth Silver Taube and Ethan Chua
Wage theft occurs when employers don’t pay workers commensurately for the hours they’ve worked, don’t pay minimum wage, or deny workers overtime pay. In California, employers use wage theft tactics to steal an estimated $2 billion from workers each year, yet only 17% of workers who’ve received court judgments in their favor secure any repayment from employers who have underpaid them. A primary reason for this low figure is that businesses can avoid wage theft judgments by closing down and reopening under a new name, leaving business owners with the capital they’ve stolen while workers themselves are left in the dust. The spate of lay-offs occurring due to COVID-19 has only exacerbated the problem, with many laid off workers still owed back pay by their employers. In addition, workers who are most vulnerable to exploitation such as low-wage workers, workers of color, and immigrant and undocumented workers are those who suffer most from unpaid wage theft claims.
PAWIS, as a member of the Santa Clara County Wage Theft Coalition, has been fighting hard for the passage of AB 3075, a bill which would close the loophole of employers shirking wage theft judgments by reopening their businesses under new names or transferring them to family members, friends, or managers. AB 3075 would extend liability for unpaid wage theft judgments to an individual or business entity that 1) uses substantially the same facilities or substantially the same workforce to offer substantially the same services as the predecessor employer; 2) has the same owners or managers; 3) employs as a managing agent any person who directly controlled the wages, hours, or working conditions of the workforce of the predecessor employer; or 4) is a family member of an owner, partner, manager, or director of the predecessor employer.
PAWIS has played a significant role in advocating for AB 3075. PAWIS member Tess Brillante participated in over 30 lobby visits and eloquently described how her former employer, who committed wage theft, transferred ownership of his company to a care home administrator in order to evade liability. Her former employer required workers to take a three hour “break” while they continued caring for patients without compensation. During these lobby visits, Tess’s testimony clearly moved legislators, one of whom even interrupted her to express his displeasure with her employer. Tess also spoke passionately about the urgency of the bill on behalf of all care home workers, who are risking their lives during COVID to receive the pay they are owed. During the Assembly Banking Committee and Senate Labor and Employment Committee hearings, PAWIS members Tess Brillante, Lilybeth Torogi, and Felwina Mondina expressed their support for the bill. By the time the bill was heard in the Banking Committee, there was no opposition, and the bill passed with 4 members in favor and 1 member abstaining. Several senators commented that it was a “great bill.” The bill is headed for the Senate floor, then back to the Assembly for a vote on the amended bill, and finally to the Governor for signature. When the Governor signs it into law, it will be a powerful victory for all workers who are victims of wage theft.
Supervising Attorney of the Workers' Rights Clinic at the Katharine & George Alexander Community Law Center at Santa Clara University School of Law and the Legal Advice Line of the OLSE Fair Workplace Collaborative; Special Counsel to Legal Aid at Work; and an Adjunct Professor at Santa Clara University School of Law. She collaborates with the PAWIS to conduct legal clinics and training. She is Legal Services Chair of the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking, a member of the South Bay Coalition’s Executive Board, a delegate to the Santa Clara County’s Human Trafficking Commission, Coordinator of the Santa Clara County Wage Theft Coalition, and a founding member of the Bay Area Equal Pay Collaborative.
Undergraduate at Stanford studying anthropology and creative writing, and a member of the Malaya Movement.