Politico: TN one of six states with no enforcement of minimum wage rules

Excerpt from a Sunday Politico piece:

As Democrats make raising the minimum wage a centerpiece of their 2018 campaigns, and Republicans call for states to handle the issue, both are missing an important problem: Wage laws are poorly enforced, with workers often unable to recover back pay even after the government rules in their favor.

That’s the conclusion of a nine-month investigation by POLITICO, which found that workers are so lightly protected that six states have no investigators to handle minimum-wage violations, while 26 additional states have fewer than 10 investigators. Given the widespread nature of wage theft and the dearth of resources to combat it, most cases go unreported. Thus, an estimated $15 billion in desperately needed income for workers with lowest wages goes instead into the pockets of shady bosses.

… This failure to enforce both the minimum hourly wage — $7.25 under federal law — and rules requiring higher pay for overtime distorts the economy, giving advantages to employers who break the law. It allows long-term patterns of abuse to take root in certain service industries, especially restaurants, landscaping and cleaning. Advocates for lowest-wage workers describe families facing eviction and experiencing hunger for lack of money that’s owed them. And, nationally, the failure to enforce wage laws exacerbates a level of income inequality that, by many measures, is higher than it’s been for the past century.

“Low-income workers are already in this fragile balance,” said Victor Narro of the UCLA Labor Center. “One paycheck of not being able to get the wages they’re owed can cause them to lose everything.”

Interviews with scores of state officials, legal-services advocates and labor specialists indicate that the failure to enforce minimum wages touches every corner of the country, but is especially acute in the six states that have no investigators probing wage violations at all.

Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee and Mississippi all have labor agencies, but workers can’t file minimum wage or overtime claims with them; they must instead appeal to the U.S. Department of Labor, which takes cases only selectively, based in part on the number of employees involved and the extent of the wrongdoing.

Note: In past years, Democrats have repeatedly introduced bills in the legislature to establish a state minimum wage — $15 an hour in one filed for the current 110th General Assembly; $10.10 in another – and Republicans have repeatedly spurned them. Some have included a provision for the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development to enforce minimum wage provisions.

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