Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live


Minimum wage violations rise in major California cities, including San Diego

Minimum wage in California is $16 dollars an hour, and in the city of San Diego, it’s $16.85. But a new study found a rise in minimum wage violations in major cities in California. KPBS reporter Tania Thorne says San Diego was one of them.

For two years, Alejandro Quezada cleaned a chain of grocery stores in San Diego after hours. But there were times, he said, when he wouldn't get paid on time for his work. Or he wouldn’t get meals or breaks. And said he often had to pay for materials out of pocket.

"They never paid us for that. They barely paid us the minimum. We never saw a reimbursement," Quezada said in Spanish.

The cleaning company he worked for was based out of Arizona, so it was difficult to reach human resources.


"It was a hassle waiting to get paid, getting paid, or going to the bank and not being able to cash the check. And I had to go look for them and call them," he said.

Quezada is one of the many workers in California that has been a victim of wage theft, a problem that Rutgers University researchers said has gotten worse even as the minimum wage went up.

A new study found minimum wage theft violations more than doubled from 2014 to 2023, affecting as many as 1.5 million workers in four major California cities, including San Diego.

"What we found is that across these four metro areas that we studied — which are Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco — we estimate between $2.3 and $4.6 billion is being stolen from workers annually, just in terms of minimum wage theft," said Jake Barnes with the Workplace Justice Lab at Rutgers University.

California's minimum wage is now $16 per hour, and in San Diego that number is $16.85 per hour.


Barnes said the study found workers who were paid less than minimum wage lost, on average, about $4,000 or 20% of their total paycheck per year.

Barnes said some of the workers who are likely to fall victim to wage theft are private household domestic workers, such as groundskeepers, child care providers and cleaners.

"These workers are across the board for the most part ... experiencing minimum wage violations at much higher rates ... than most other workers," he said, adding these are jobs often filled by people of color, women, or people who have less than a college education.

"Other sectors where this (wage theft) is particularly prominent is food services and drinking places. So restaurants (and) fast food,” Barnes said.

Barnes with Rutgers University said that in many ways, California is a leader in labor practices, but the study shows that more support is needed in local and state wage enforcement.

As for Quezada, he said he never got reimbursed for material or unpaid wages, but has now moved on to a different job he enjoys, with an employer that follows the laws.