CLEVELAND — Cuyahoga County Council is considering legislation that would bar the county from doing business with any known violator of wage theft laws.
Wage theft is when an employer shortchanges an employee by paying less than minimum wage, withholding overtime pay, failing to pay for all hours worked or misclassifying a worker.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, about 217,000 Ohioans are victims of wage theft each year, costing each worker an average of $2,800 annually.
The Guardians for Fair Work, a coalition of labor activists, pushed a similar ordinance through Cleveland City Council in December.
One activist, Nora Kelley, said they've seen support across our region, which is why they're now pushing to expand it to the county level.
"We're turning out a bunch of supporters for the ordinance all across the county to show that there's broadening support,” Kelley said. “The coalition Guardians for Fair Work is made up of 30 organizations: labor unions, community organizations and residents all across this county, so we're showing how broad-based this support is."
The Guardians for Fair Work have been hosting wage theft clinics to help connect victims with resources to support them.
They said they’ve seen folks come into the clinics from all over the region, one of which is Renee Howe.
Howe was on her feet all day for her last job, going door-to-door as someone in delivery services, but no matter how long it took her to deliver the day’s packages for her route, she was only paid for seven hours of work.
“If we weren’t finished, we didn’t go home until it was finished,” Howe said. “But we didn’t get paid anymore than the seven hours on our route. So, I feel that I have been shorted several hours of time that I worked to continue to finish until I was done.”
At the time, Howe felt this was wrong, but she didn’t know it was against the law until she saw a story about the Guardians for Fair Work’s wage theft clinics on the news.
“Not getting paid all of the hours, that was degrading to me,” Howe said. “But I also am a dedicated employee, so I did stay. I did finish the route. I did make sure everything was done before I went home. So, I did work a lot of hours for free. When I found out that was wrong, I was shocked and happy to know that what I thought was correct.”
The Guardians for Fair Work hope the legislation will help to prevent what happened to Howe from happening to others.
“They felt like definitely I wasn’t being paid what I should have been,” Howe said. “So now I’m working on trying to get that money back, so hopefully it all works out.”