County Considers Wage-Theft Ordinance

Santa Clara County will consider an ordinance to punish employers for wage theft, a charge that would disqualify businesses from public contracts and give workers a formal recourse to lodge complaints against stingy bosses.

The motion going before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday would direct the county to come up with a draft ordinance over the coming months. Supervisor Dave Cortese brought forward the idea, citing a 2008 study by the National Employment Law Project that says two-thirds of 4,387 low-wage workers polled in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago were denied full compensation.

“Those being criminally disadvantaged from their rightful pay included health care workers, child care workers, garment workers, hotel maids, cashiers, security guards, retail employees, janitors, car wash workers and many more,” Cortese writes.

Among other findings, the study shows that 25 percent of those workers were paid below minimum wage for a week’s worth of work. Seventy-six percent who worked overtime didn’t get the required time-and-a-half pay. Sixty-nine percent got no meal breaks. More than half didn’t get mandatory pay stubs. And 43 percent experienced illegal retaliation for complaining.

“Wage theft is not a victimless crime,” Cortese continues. “The financial loss to the individuals whose wages were stolen and their families was significant, according to the study. In Los Angeles alone, low-wage workers were deprived of nearly $1.4 billion each year.”

Last year, San Francisco, Houston and Miami became the first major cities in the nation to pass similar ordinances.

The study Cortese mentions—titled “Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers”—says communities with larger numbers of undocumented workers, like the South Bay, are especially ripe for abuse.

“We found that many employment and labor laws are regularly and systematically violated, impacting a significant part of the low-wage labor force in the nation’s largest cities,” the study says. “The framework of worker protections that was established over the last 75 years is not working.”

More from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors agenda for February 25, 2014:

• Since more than half of released inmates are Latino, many of whom are raised in the Catholic tradition, the county plans to grant $400,000 to the Catholic Charities of Santa Clara for faith-based re-entry services.

• The county’s put together a task force to look at a policy that bans local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration officials. Critics of the policy say it unjustifiably protects violent undocumented offenders. Proponents say it promotes trust between the public and police.

• In the wake of shocking hate crimes that allegedly happened at San Jose State University last semester, the county will look at how local law enforcement policies affected the school’s response to the incidents that led to the arrest of four students. The county will send out a survey to all 13 law enforcement agencies in the county to gather more information about how local hate crime policies are implemented.

• The county will set aside about $542,000 for medical care for the 3,342 people in the region living with HIV or AIDS. Centers for Disease Control estimates there may be 739 more people in the county who have AIDS but have not yet been diagnosed.

• A $2.5 million state grant will fund a program to help ex-inmates reintegrate into the community. The program will combine drug and alcohol counseling with job guidance and housing placement, among other services, to help ex-inmates get back on their feet as the state releases more low-level convicts into the community as part of a wide-scale prison reform.

Food for local jails and the probation department costs the county around $2.5 million a year.

• The county is seeking grant money to fund rape prevention efforts in both its jails and juvenile hall.

• The Sheriff’s Office got a $180,000 state grant for “marijuana suppression,” which is basically busting people heading up illegal grow ops.

Pre-employment lie detector tests will cost the county $225,000 through 2017 if a contract is approved.

WHAT: Board of Supervisors meets
WHEN: 9am Tuesday
WHERE: County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose

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


  1. The county jails should permit the inmates to “grow food” for their own consumption and to assist the senior nutrition program.

    They have a lot of land and time on their hands and growing food sure beats laying around a jail cell.

    David S. Wall

  2. Pingback: Wage Theft: A Nationwide Issue Seeking Local Attention |

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