Congressional Progressive Caucus calls for stronger action against wage theft


Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon).
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The leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus this week sent a letter to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez urging the Labor Department to step up its enforcement actions against wage theft.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) issued the request on Monday, two days before President Obama visited Michigan to make a case for increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10.

The caucus leaders also asked the Labor Department to make data on wage theft more accessible to federal agencies so they can make better-informed decisions about which companies deserve contracts.

“Strong enforcement of wage-theft violations and consideration of those violations in future contract-award decisions would send a clear signal to contractors that the federal government will not do business with law-breakers,” the lawmakers said.

A Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee report last year said companies that hold federal contracts accounted for nearly half of the penalty dollars assessed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 2012.

Workers-rights groups applauded the caucus leaders for their letter to Perez. Good Jobs Nation said in a statement on Wednesday that the Obama administration should increase its enforcement of wage laws if it is serious about helping low-wage workers.

Tibebe Ayele, an Ethiopian immigrant and D.C. resident, said in the statement that he worked 60 hours per week at a Chinese restaurant without receiving overtime pay.

“I work hard and barely manage to pay for the basics like food and rent,” Ayele he said. “The last thing I need is the company I work for to not pay me for all the hours I work.”

President Obama has already taken action this year to support federal contract workers, signing an executive order in February that established a minimum wage of $10.10 per hour for employees on new government contracts.

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Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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