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City Council passes bill to curb wage theft

It’s a practice that disproportionately affects the city’s African American, Latino and immigrant workers.

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City Council passed a bill Thursday that will increase fines for employers who commit wage theft in Philadelphia. The bill, introduced by Councilman Bill Greenlee, received unanimous approval on the floor.

“This new law will help send a message that wage theft will not be tolerated in our city,” a representative from Community Legal Services said in a statement. “Philadelphia has taken a vital step towards stopping wage theft and we commend City Council for voting to pass this bill and protect workers.”

An estimated $19 million to $32 million worth of wages are withheld from workers statewide in the average work work. In this same period, some 93,000 instances of wage occur in Philadelphia alone.

It’s a practice that disproportionately affects the city’s African American, Latino and immigrant workers, many of whom are in low-paying jobs with few employee protections.

In the larger metro area, about 128,476 workers experience a minimum wage violation, 105,458 an overtime violation, and 83,344 an off-the-clock violation. All of data comes from a report by the Social Justice Lawyering Clinic at the Stephen and Sandra Sheller Center for Social Justice.

By passing the bill, the city will create a Wage Theft Coordinator position within the Managing Director’s office. The role of this position will be to protect workers by making it easier for them to file complaints about wage theft without fear of retaliation.

Perhaps the most effective deterrent, the bill would grant the city rights “to deny, suspend or revoke any license or permit if the applicant is found guilty of wage theft.”

In a survey of Philadelphia restaurant industry workers, the PA wage theft report found that 40 percent had worked off-the-clock without pay.

Community Legal Services notes that rampant wage theft also affects the city, as wage taxes cannot be withheld on stolen wages.

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