One Year After San Diego Minimum Wage Hike, City Enforcement Uncertain
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story did not include all authors of the wage theft report. It was co-written by San Diego State University's sociology department and the Employee Rights Center of San Diego.
Our top story, who is making sure that employers in San Diego abide by the cities $11.50 an hour minimum wage? According to new report from the Center on Policy Initiatives, there has been no city effort to enforce the minimum wage for most of the time it has been in effect. CPI has oh review the overall effect of wage theft on San Diego and Imperial County workers and finds that most victims do not make claims and those that do have a long wait for the money they are owed. Joining me is Kyra Greene, the executive director on center -- at Center on Policy Initiatives. Welcome to the program. According to your part of a worker in San Diego found out this year that he or she was not being paid the new higher minimum wage, what happened to those complaints? This year, if they went to look on the city website they would have found directions to take their complaints to the state labor commissions office and violate complaint. When the minimum wage increase passed last year, city Council gave the mayor's office money to set up a four person team to enforce the higher minimum wage. Has that team and set up and if so what are they doing? The office was funded and some staff who are hired. It has not been fully staffed. In the years since the ordinance went into effect they have according to the testimony they give to city Council, they have done outreach to employers to let them know that the law was in effect and they should abide by it. We have seen that they put up a form and a set of instructions that directed people that they could make complaints directly to that office. If they had complaints regarding, there were not receiving access to earned sick days or if an employer was not posting the law itself on the walls, but if they were making acclaim about minimum wage or retaliation for asking to use any of the rights, they are being directed to the state labor commissions office. In that time when they did receive complaints on their form they told the city Council that they would contact the employer and they were told by the employees that those were misunderstandings. They closed the cases at that point. California labor Commissioner Julie Su wrote to the mayor and the Council just this past may sing she could not quote, protect basic wage rates for your city without your help. We asked to the city about that in the response we received right apart quote, the minimum wage program within the office of the city treasurer is fully staffed and has been operational since the earned sick leave and minimum wage implementing ordinance became effective on September 2, 2016. Getting July 1 of this year, enforcement was expanded to include all claim types required by the ordinance, including minimum wage, earned sick leave, retaliation and notice and posting". That responses I think fairly confusing. Do you find that after the state's letter to the mayor, the city did actually step up its game on enforcement? That is not entirely clear at this point. What happened, after they received the letter we did not have any further communication with the office to let us know what they were intending to do. Then we received, someone suggested that the website had been updated on June 30 so we to look. There is now in new form that did have check boxes for minimum wage and retaliation. There has been no public outreach, no announcement of that and no indication that workers are aware of that and able to use the system. Let me talk and moment Cara -- tonight about your study overall. What are your key findings in terms of how government wage theft is and who would harms? Wage theft is not just in our CeBIT multiple cities. It is a rampant problem in billions of dollars are lost in the economy every year as a result of wage theft. The people most likely to be affected are people who are the most vulnerable. Low-wage employees, people to's immigration status is in question. Because employers who want to break the law, feel most empowered to do so against those folks. It is particularly unfortunate because of course people who are working hard but receiving low wages, and trying to make ends meet, discipline need the pay that they have earned. We found in many cases, not only when they are not receiving pay or receiving less than what they should, the system for recovering their wages, for getting back the money they are owed, take stay long time and time that these families cannot afford. CPI head is similar report out about two years ago on wage theft. I wonder what you had found changed in that time. Our report in 2015 focus specifically on the restaurant industry and obviously this report focuses on the right of industries because Alexa people who come to file complaints. I would say that in general, what we found is there has been more public outreach by the state labor Commissioner to raise attention to this issue and there have been community groups all over the country doing so. People are more aware of the fact that wage theft is a problem. In terms of remedies for employees themselves, people who are working, we had hoped with passage of this law that we would be able to come and say there have been significant improvements for working people in San Diego. That has not been the case since our 2015 report. I have been speaking with Kyra Greene, the director on of the office of policy initiatives. The city of San Diego sent us this comment late this morning. Quote, the city designed its enforcement process to direct minimum wage and retaliation complaints to the state. This was the result of many meetings, correspondence in collaboration with the San Diego labor Commissioner's. As with any program we constantly evaluate our processes and as a result effective July 1, 2017, violations of all ordinance requirements can be filed with the city.
The city of San Diego’s new minimum wage law went into effect last June, and the city funded an enforcement office to hear complaints and investigate violations. But until a few weeks ago, the city had been directing wage complaints to state labor regulators, who said the law can not be properly enforced without local help.
The Center on Policy Initiatives released a study on San Diego wage theft on Tuesday, estimating that employers in San Diego and Imperial counties fail to pay the minimum wage 40,000 times per year. The state received nearly 3,000 San Diego claims last year. The Center on Policy Initiatives worked with San Diego State University's sociology department and the Employee Rights Center of San Diego on the study.
In 2016, voters approved Proposition I, which increased the minimum wage and gave workers five sick days a year. The city said it would rely on employee complaints to make sure the law was followed.
But an April report from the the city treasurer, which oversees enforcement of the wage law, showed that while San Diego handled alleged violations of sick leave policy and employer notice requirements, it directed complaints about wage violations and retaliation to the California Labor Commissioner’s Office. As recently as June 6, the treasurer’s website suggested visitors could file wage complaints with the state. The site was updated on June 30 to include a way to report wage violations to city staff.
“The case that was made to voters is that no one who works full time should live in poverty,” said Kyra Greene, executive director of the Center on Policy Initiatives, which backed the wage increase. “And we outlined an agency that would do enforcement of these issues, of both wages and earned sick days. We set out a special series of protections for workers.”
The state Division of Labor Standards Enforcement signs deals with some cities, letting them refer potential violations to each other and conduct joint investigations. A draft partnership agreement was discussed among city officials, but California Labor Commissioner Julie Su said in May that she would not sign it because San Diego had not assigned any staff to enforce the minimum wage portion of its own ordinance.
“While we appreciate the importance of the outreach and education that the (city enforcement office) has undertaken, it will be insufficient to address the breadth of the problem and to realize the intent of the ordinance,” Su wrote in a letter to San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and council members. “Wage theft is a statewide crisis, and San Diego has a mandate to take the lead in addressing it.”
A spokeswoman for the treasurer's office said the city's minimum wage enforcement team has four staff members with one more expected by the end of the year.
"The City designed its enforcement process to direct minimum wage and retaliation complaints to the State. This was the result of many meetings, correspondence and collaboration with the San Diego area Deputy Labor Commissioners," Racquel Vasquez, a senior public information officer for the city of San Diego, said. "As with any program, we constantly evaluate our processes and as a result, effective July 1, 2017, violations of all Ordinance requirements can be filed with the City."
Greene, of the Center on Policy Initiatives, joined KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday with more on San Diego’s efforts to crack down on employers who violate minimum wage law.