March 30, 2009
GAO Report: Labor Department totally failing workers
This investigation clearly shows that the Department of Labor has left thousands of actual victims of wage theft who sought federal government assistance with nowhere to turn.
That’s the conclusion of an investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a report released this week at a hearing of the House Committee on Education and Labor. The GAO found that the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) is failing in its job to investigate complaints of wage, hour, and child labor violations, essentially giving employers carte blanche to rob their workers blind.
Undercover GAO investigators posed as fictitious complainants and contacted Wage and Hour district offices around the United States to complain about gross violations of the law, including one case where dozens of children were said to be operating dangerous machinery in a meat packing plant during school hours. The GAO later revealed WHD not only didn’t investigate, they didn’t even make a record of the complaint.
In other cases, WHD tried discouraging one undercover investigator from filing a complaint, first by encouraging him to “just have a nice conversation” with his employer, then by suggesting that filing a complaint could get him fired.
In his testimony before Congress, Greg Kutz, Managing Director of Forensic Audits and Special Investigations for GAO said results of this investigation show that the 15 cases brought before the committee last summer were “just the tip of the iceberg”:
I am concerned that thousands of victims of wage theft become frustrated with the complaint intake process and never actually file complaints with Labor. Thousands of others who file complaints find themselves victims of unscrupulous employers who know how to beat the system.
George Miller (D-CA) who chairs the House Committee on Education and Labor, pointed out that failure to investigate overtime, minimum wage, and child labor violations of the law are not trivial:
Those most vulnerable to wage theft are likely bearing the brunt of our nation’s economic crisis. Families where a breadwinner has his or her wages stolen still have rent to pay, mouths to feed, children to clothe, and medicine to buy. They can’t afford to be paid less than what the law says.
Simply put, when a business pockets wages due to its workers, it is theft. And it is illegal.
You may have to listen to the recordings for yourself to believe just how outrageous it is when the very department charged with protecting workers from violations of wage, hour, and child labor laws becomes the prime obstacle to justice for workers:
GAO investigation into worker wage theft: Phone Call 1: “So you’re just not in a position where you can pay him? OK.”
GAO investigation into worker wage theft: Phone Call 2: “All you did was just call her and ask her to pay me.”
GAO investigation into worker wage theft: Phone Call 3: “I can’t guarantee that he’s not going to fire you.”
GAO investigation into worker wage theft: Phone Call 4: WHD employee lies to fictitious complainant
GAO investigation into worker wage theft: Phone Call 5: “We’re not even going to start an investigation until 8-10 months.”
GAO investigation into worker wage theft: Phone Call 6: GAO Files Anonymous Child Labor Complaint
Our new Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, responded to GAO’s findings. From the AFL-CIO Blog:
In response to the GAO findings, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced the department’s Wage and Hour Division will add 250 new investigators, a staff increase of more than a third. The agency already has begun the process of adding 150 new investigators to its field offices. In addition, another 100 investigators will be hired to ensure that contractors on economic recovery projects comply with the applicable laws. This is a big step in the right direction to rebuild the agency, which lost more than 200 investigators during the Bush administration.