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UUSC Partner Wins Historic Edict Condemning Wage Theft
Friday, September 24, 2010
Members and supporters of UUSC’s partner the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center (NWAWJC) rally for workers’ rights at a demonstration in Little Rock, Ark. (Photo by NWAWJC)
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — A UUSC partner organization based in northwest Arkansas has achieved a significant milestone with the proclamation by Fayetteville Mayor Lionel Jordan condemning wage theft as an illegal practice that causes irreparable harm to low-income workers and ethical businesses.
"Wage theft, the practice of underpaying or refusing to pay for the labor of employees, denies workers and their families economic prosperity and financial security," Mayor Jordan said in the proclamation. "Workers have lost homes and vehicles due to employers not paying wages and, in some extreme cases, wage theft has led to homelessness."
The proclamation was issued in conjunction with a recent forum on the issue of wage theft organized by the Northwest Arkansas Workers' Justice Center (NWAWJC), a UUSC partner based in Springdale, Ark. Although the proclamation is nonbinding, Fayetteville is the first city in the United States to issue a public pronouncement and promise strong action to combat wage theft.
"The mayor's proclamation highlights the vigorous anti-wage-theft campaign our northwest Arkansas partners and their local allies have undertaken, and greatly increases the public exposure of this outrageous and often undetected practice of unethical employers," said Ariel Jacobson, the senior associate for UUSC's Economic Justice Program. "This action sets an example for the rest of the nation to take steps to eliminate this injustice that affects millions of workers across the country."
"Imagine if 100 other communities followed Fayetteville's lead," said Kim Bobo, executive director of the national Interfaith Worker Justice coalition and the author of Wage Theft in America: Why Millions of Working Americans Are Not Getting Paid-And What We Can Do About It, the first book to name and document the problem. Bobo, who was a keynote speaker at the wage-theft forum, has termed wage theft "the crime wave no one talks about."
After the NWAWJC forum, Mayor Jordan agreed to establish a Mayor's Task Force on Wage Theft, assign a police officer to investigate wage crimes, and create a hotline to report wage theft cases.
"I was excited by Mayor Jordan's proclamation," said Fernando García, the NWAWJC's campaign organizer. "He was very focused on the panelists' speeches at the forum, which ranged from current laws to firsthand experience of wage theft."
Garcia said the NWAWJC will play an active role with the task force and will campaign for passage of a wage-theft ordinance that would give the proclamation the force of law.
NWAWJC, established in 2002, seeks to improve the wages, benefits, and working conditions of low wage and immigrant workers through providing rights education, building local and regional partnerships to involve the broader community in workers' struggles, and empowering workers to be effective advocates.
Another major focus of the center's mission is workplace safety. The center recently signed an alliance with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration designed to enhance workers' safety in high-risk jobs in construction and general industry.
For a news story about the wage-theft proclamation, visit the Cypress Times.