Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan has made the city the first to express opposition to wage theft, according to a release from the Northwest Arkansas Workers' Justice Center.
The proclamation against the practice is non-binding, but Jordan is quoted as saying he would establish a Mayor’s Task Force on Wage Theft, assign a police officer to investigate wage crimes and create a hotline to report wage theft.
Wage theft is intentional underpayment or nonpayment for labor. It is often employed against people in a position not to fight back — particularly immigrant workers without papers. In addition to hurting workers and families, it disadvantages competitors and steals government revenue.
The mayor of Fayetteville, Arkansas has issued an historic proclamation condemning wage theft, making theirs the first city-wide public pronouncement in the nation against the illegal practice that annually takes billions of dollars out of the pockets of millions of workers across the country, particularly in the low-wage economy.
Lioneld Jordan, mayor of Fayetteville, unveiled the proclamation on Thursday, September 9, at a public forum on wage theft organized by the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center, an affiliate of the national network Interfaith Worker Justice.
“I was excited by Mayor Jordan’s proclamation,” said Fernando García of the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center. “He was very focused on the panelists’ speeches, which ranged from current laws to first-hand experience of wage theft.”
“Imagine if 100 other communities followed Fayetteville’s lead,” said Kim Bobo, Interfaith Worker Justice’s Executive Director and the author of Wage Theft in America: Why Millions of Working Americans Are Not Getting Paid—And What We Can Do About It, the first book to name and document the problem.
The proclamation reads: “Wage Theft, the practice of underpaying or refusing to pay for the labor of employees, denies workers and their families economic prosperity and financial security. Workers have lost homes and vehicles due to employers not paying wages and, in some extreme cases, wage theft has led to homelessness…”
Wage theft also “puts ethical businesses at a disadvantage,” the proclamation states. “Unethical employers are more likely to get higher profits due to stealing wages compared to ethical employers who pay fair wages in a timely manner, causing ethical employers to be at a disadvantage in the market…”
The proclamation goes on to contend that wage theft “steals revenue from the state and city and the Social Security trust fund. Wage thieves fail to report wages to state and federal agencies resulting in fewer public resources. Unethical employers have also misclassified workers to prevent paying workers compensation and payroll taxes…”
“While not binding,” said Bobo, who also spoke at Thursday’s forum in Fayetteville, “the proclamation educates the community about the issue and publicly commits the city leadership to address it.”
Indeed, after the forum, Mayor Jordan agreed to establish a Mayor’s Task Force on Wage Theft, assign a police officer to investigate wage crimes, and create a hotline to report wage theft cases (and publicize the number for the hotline in the community).
And the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center will play an active role in that process, working with the city of Fayetteville and campaigning for the passage of a wage theft ordinance and/or resolution that would give the proclamation real legislative bite by empowering the city to directly enforce labor laws.
In February, Miami-Dade County passed the first county-wide wage theft ordinance in the country. Campaigns to pass wage theft legislation are currently underway in several states, counties, and cities around the country.
On November 18, Interfaith Worker Justice and its national network are coordinating a National Day of Action to Stop Wage Theft to highlight both the growing crisis and ways that workers and communities have fought back. Actions will take place in cities across the country.