Today, Wednesday, November 20th, 2013, Houston City Council made history passing the first municipal ordinance cracking down on wage theft in Texas and only the second in a major metropolis in the U.S. South. The measure passed unanimously.
In passing the Wage Theft Ordinance, Council sends a clear message that intentionally cheating workers of their pay – especially under city contracts – will not be tolerated in Houston.
The ordinance establishes a process housed in the Office of the Inspector General through which employees can bring wage claims forward. Companies with a documented record of wage theft – either final adjudication from a court of competent jurisdiction or a criminal conviction – will be included in a publicly listed database on the City’s website and will be ineligible for city contracts or sub-contracts. Additionally, any company with a criminal conviction of wage theft will be ineligible to receive occupational permits and licenses.
The legal language of the ordinance was developed as a public policy proposal incorporating the demands and vision developed collectively by low-wage workers employed in various industries that had direct personal experience with wage theft. Members of the Fe y Justicia Worker Center, the organization spearheading the Down with Wage Theft Campaign, prioritized the need to increase real consequences for companies and employers that demonstrated disregard for the dignity of workers and wage and hour laws. The ordinance was then submitted to Mayor Parker and promoted in Houston neighborhoods by constituents in each of the city council districts.
Over the past two years, members of the Fe y Justicia Worker Center have educated the public and Council on the social and economic impacts of wage theft by taking to the streets, convening community forums, and meeting with City Council members, business owners, and community members building a coalition of over 35 organizations.
In the Houston area alone, it is estimated that over $750 million dollars are lost due to wage theft among low-wage workers every year. Low wage workers must often seek recourse from community services or government assistance as their poverty is further exacerbated due to the loss of wages when experiencing medical emergencies, lack of food or shelter, and other needs.