A Plan to Fight Wage Theft Is Taking Shape in New Haven

José Luis Martínez, CT Mirror, March 31, 2024

[Editor’s Note: This article is part of CT Mirror’s Spanish-language news coverage developed in partnership with Identidad Latina Multimedia.]

Some businesses employ creative tactics to avoid paying their employees. They write bad checks, misclassify workers, falsify work hours or simply not pay them at all.
Lina Segura, for example, says she worked multiple 80+ hour workweeks last year and was not paid thousands in wages. But that’s just a fraction of at least $17 million identified as stolen from workers across Connecticut since 2019 after thousands of state investigations.

John Jairo Lugo, co-founder of immigrant rights organization Unidad Latina en Acción, is fed up. For over a decade, he’s pushed for an idea: What if a city’s health department could suspend or revoke the food and beverage licenses of cafés, bars and restaurants that commit labor violations?

After advocating for the idea since 2013, a version of it could soon become a city ordinance in New Haven. Eamon Coburn, a member of the HAVEN medical-legal partnership at Yale, which provides legal services and works with healthcare providers to tackle non-medical factors that affect people’s health, presented the idea to city officials in June 2023 … Once they overcome some legal hurdles, the ordinance could be formally introduced. If it passes, New Haven would join several cities, from Boston to San Francisco, that have created wage-theft deterrents at the local level. ..

Why a City Ordinance?
ULA has long advocated for more worker protections and harsher punishments against businesses that steal wages, as far back as the early 2000s. In 2005, it advocated for ideas that would involve the city’s police department, and in 2013, it sent New Haven officials an idea that is identical to what is being proposed now…

And during those years, the number of wage complaints submitted to the state has risen while the number of staffers who investigate those claims has decreased. State investigations can lead to fines, civil penalties and possible jail time.

The department currently has about 1,000 cases that are yet to be assigned to an investigator, creating months-long waits for workers to have their cases heard… Thousands of small claims cases are pending in court. …With this backlog, Lugo is even more compelled to get this city ordinance to the finish line.

Restaurants across the state were ordered to pay back more than $3 million to almost 2,000 employees since 2012 after federal law violations, according to a review of federal wage claim data by The Connecticut Mirror last year. …

“Employment and income will also affect your health,” said Coburn, adding that having one’s wages stolen can lead to homelessness, hunger and lack of access to medical care and transportation. “That public health lens is what is under-neath this proposal.”

[Article can be read in its entirety at https://ctmirror.org/2024/03/31/ct-wage-theft-new-haven/]

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