To Combat Wage Theft, San Jose Weighs Local Ordinance

Taking a cue from Santa Clara County, San Jose is considering adopting a wage theft ordinance. The city rule would deny permits, licenses and government contracts to businesses with pending wage theft violations.

In a proposal submitted to the Rules and Open Government Committee, City Council members Don Rocha, Margie Matthews, Ash Kalra and Magdalena Carrasco say local enforcement would fill regulatory gaps that leave thousands of low-wage workers under-paid with little recourse.

They share the story of a live-in caregiver, Priscilla Soriano, who worked 12-hour days six days a week, but never got paid overtime. In 2011, she filed a complaint with the state Labor Commission, which ruled that the employer owed her $64,904 in unpaid wages.

Between 2011 and 2014, nearly 1,100 San Jose-based businesses were slapped with wage theft judgments, according to Santa Clara County Superior Court records cited in the Rules memo. Women, immigrants and anyone working a low-wage job are the most at-risk.

"This issue matters because hard work should be a path to a better life, not to poverty," the council members write in their memo. "We talk a lot about creating jobs here at the city because they help our residents meet their basic needs, raise their families and contribute to our community. Wage theft enforcement is just another step in ensuring that jobs live up to that promise, that they truly are a path to a better life."

But existing enforcement is insufficient, they continue. In 2012-13, the Labor Commission officers in San Jose and Salinas awarded $8.4 million to workers cheated out of wages they worked for. But only $2.8 million (33 percent) was ever collected. The San Jose labor commission office fields about 300 claims a month, mostly from the restaurant and construction industries.

The county already formed a wage theft coalition to help people collect unpaid wages and protect them from retaliation when they do.

More from the Rules and Open Government Committee agenda for April 15, 2015:

  • With Independent Police Auditor LaDoris Cordell headed for retirement this summer, the city is actively recruiting for her successor. The city will hold two community meetings later this month to give the public a chance to guide candidate selection.
  • City Auditor Sharon Erickson is studying the impact of changes to the police disability retirement system, the public golf course's persistent decline in revenue and the timeliness of employee hiring, among other things. Here's a look at some of her work plan this spring.

WHAT: Rules and Open Government Committee meets
WHEN: 2pm Wednesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

One Comment

  1. It’s good that employers are being monetarily punished for being so inconsiderate as to provide jobs to people. But they also need to be criminally prosecuted for kidnapping and assault since they must have been holding a gun to the heads of their workers to force them to work so hard and long.
    This is like the 6th meaty column written by Jennifer Wadsworth this week. It’s heartbreaking to see a young person feel so pressured by her employer that she has no choice but to keep churning out politically correct propaganda at an inhuman pace. Maybe if she can break free for a moment she can hire some fancy lawyers with political connections to force Metro to give her a bunch of money- and the lawyers could get a bunch too!

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