Although roughly 10,000 incidents of wage theft were reported to the Illinois Dept. of Labor (IDOL) last year, as this blog reported last month, a new survey paints a much darker picture. As reported by Chicago Public Radio (WBEZ), University of Illinois at Chicago researchers believe more than 146,000 Cook County workers are shortchanged per week.
Wage theft occurs when employers fail to pay wages earned or do not pay their workers in accordance with labor laws, including unpaid overtime and work done off the clock.
Sadly, most victims of wage theft are low-wage workers who either don't fully understand their rights, or believe they can't afford a Chicago employment lawyer.
The WBEZ report profiles Polish immigrant Dariusz Jaworski, who says he is owed more than $8,000 in unpaid wages.
Mr. Jaworski was promised a modest $15 per hour to refurbish a mansion on the North Side of Chicago for a Catholic school. The stolen wages, he said, make it impossible for him to visit his wife, who still lives in Poland. And he said he just barely is able to make rent on the apartment he shares with his daughter.
Professor Nik Theodore, who directs the university's Center for Urban Economic Development, said workers in low-wage industries lose at least $7 million per week to wage theft in Cook County alone:
"We're talking about minimum-wage violations, overtime, not having access to workers compensation when they've been injured, working off the books, meaning before or after their shift, and so on."
And wage theft, he added, is an equal opportunity phenomenon. While immigrants tend to be the most vulnerable to wage theft, particularly those without proper documentation, no demographic group is immune.
As discussed in the earlier Chicago Employment Law Blog post, Senate Bill 3568 seeks to impose tougher enforcement measures with respect to wage theft. If you feel like you have encountered wage theft, talking to an Illinois employment lawyer may be useful. As a worker, you do have options. A Chicago employment lawyer can tell you what those options are.