Imagine after a long week of hard work, time away from your family and the toil of a hard day’s labor, to collect your pay and discover your wages don't match up to what you were promised.
This is exactly what happens to hard working people across the state. Workers are often required to perform job-related duties before or after they clock in. They are denied overtime. Many can't even obtain a pay stub from their employer so that they might know exactly what their hourly rate is and what deductions they are subject to.
Wage theft is the denial of wages or employee benefits that are rightfully owed to an employee. Wage theft can be conducted through various means such as: failure to pay overtime, minimum wage violations, illegal deductions in pay, working off the clock, or not being paid at all. According to a survey conducted by the Northwest Arkansas Workers Justice Center, victims of wage theft represent every demographic in Arkansas, but low income wage earners are especially susceptible to wage theft.
Many employers of day laborers will issue employees a pre-loaded cash card without providing a pay stub. This method of payment allows the employer to simply reimburse their workers at whatever rate they deem fair.
Sadly many low income workers are fearful of repercussions if they confront their employers about stolen wages. In addition, current Arkansas law only enforces penalties against employers when wage theft is considered intentional.
As a result, employers have little fear of recourse when denying an employee their earned wages. They know these families are less likely to complain or report infractions.
The Northwest Arkansas Worker Justice Center recently issued a report “Wages and Working conditions in Arkansas poultry plants,” showing that the wage theft issue is also alarming in poultry plants. Sixty two percent of Arkansas poultry workers report experiencing violations of wage and hour laws. Reported violations included miscellaneous wage deductions, problems receiving complete pay for all hours worked, nonpayment of wages or overtime and unpaid lunch breaks that lasted less than 20 minutes.
Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families reported that a full-time employee who is required to prepare their work station just 15 minutes prior to clocking in each day will lose more than $1,400.00 a year in wages for unpaid time. This loss of time can be detrimental to low income workers already struggling to provide for their families.
State and national employment law is intended to protect workers from these kinds of abuses and provide them with mechanisms for reporting problems. However, there is growing evidence that the system is failing to provide these protections for many workers, especially at the bottom of the labor market, leaving them vulnerable to abuse.
Arkansas currently does not require employers to provide their employees a notice of wages or pay stubs. In 2013, the Arkansas Citizens First Congress attempted to pass legislation that would require employers to provide employees a copy of a pay stub, but only when asked to do so. This attempt faced opposition and scrutiny from the University of Arkansas and the State Chamber of Commerce. Opponents said printing pay stubs would cost employers too much money.
Meanwhile hard working Arkansans are left deprived of earned wages and without recourse for the pick-pocketing that continues to occur.
We need to increase penalties for wage theft and increase enforcement resources, to ensure workers actually receive the pay they are due. This enforcement should include greater investigation and exposure of payroll cards.
Arkansas also needs to pass legislation requiring employers to provide employees a pay stub upon request of the employee.
It is time we stand up for working families and adopt policies to strengthen the labor and wage laws in Arkansas.