I first witnessed wage theft ten years ago when a storefront job allowed me to observe the business practices of a satellite dish installer up close. The owner had discovered a loophole in Alabama’s laws that let him withhold payment on contract work for up to six months, but he never explained this to anyone when he hired them. A succession of people applied for the job, worked a few days or weeks, and then quit when they finally learned there was no paycheck coming before their rent would be due. This was also the only job I have ever had in which my own paycheck actually bounced, so I absolutely believed the one installer I ran into much later who said that he never received any money at all.

But why should Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times simply believe working class people on this topic? After all, his job is to tell ‘both sides’ of every story — even when one side is plainly lying its ass off. And there are just so many industry shills to reference and quote, aren’t there?

Many business groups counter that government officials have drummed up a flurry of wage enforcement actions, largely to score points with union allies. If anything, employers have become more scrupulous in complying with wage laws, the groups say, in response to the much publicized lawsuits about so-called off-the-clock work that were filed against Walmart and other large companies a decade ago.

[…] Business advocates see a hidden agenda in these lawsuits. For example, the lawsuit against Schneider — which owns a gigantic warehouse here that serves Walmart exclusively — coincides with unions pressuring Walmart to raise wages. The lawyers and labor groups behind the lawsuit have sought to hold Walmart jointly liable in the case.

[…] Business groups note that the lawsuits against McDonald’s have been coordinated with the fast-food workers’ movement demanding a $15 wage. “This is a classic special-interest campaign by labor unions,” said Stephen J. Caldeira, president of the International Franchise Association. In legal papers, McDonald’s denied any liability in Ms. Salazar’s case, and the Oakland franchisee insisted that Ms. Salazar had failed to establish illegal actions by the restaurant.

[…] Lee Schreter, co-chairwoman of the wage and hour practice group at Littler Mendelson, a law firm that represents employers, said wage theft was not increasing, adding that many companies had become more vigilant about compliance. But that has not stopped lawyers from bringing wage theft complaints because of the potential payoff, Ms. Schreter said. “These are opportunistic lawsuits,” she said.

In the last 15 years, mainstream media has repeatedly and utterly failed America on a host of issues, from war to climate change, by presenting them as a debate between opposing points of view without making any kind of factual call on the veracity of sources or the empirical value of their data. This one is no different. Workers know better than anyone how many hours they have worked and what wages they were promised. If more of them are complaining of wage theft, that is because there is actually more wage theft going on, no matter what some paid spokesman says.

Tying worker complaints to increased union activism is a perversion of the problem: fast food workers are not organizing civil disobedience actions across the country this Thursday out of their love for the Internationale, or because their employers have been overly-generous. They are doing it because no amount of hard work or struggle is enough to get ahead on minimum wage.

Maria Fernandez, the New Jersey woman who died last week while napping in her car between shifts at her multiple jobs, is Exhibit A that pulling on your bootstraps is no longer the way to get ahead in America. In the modern hyper-capitalist system, you only move up by screwing over the people who work for you.

  • Red

    “no longer” as if the American Dream wasn’t just Horatio Alger trying to shift books

    • Did you know that Alger came to the US after he was accused of molesting children? Kinda makes that whole ‘bootstrap-pulling’ mythology take on a sinister S&M flavor, doesn’t it?