An Iowa Policy Project
study issued Monday says that scenarios like two that shocked Iowans in recent years - the low wages paid to mentally disabled workers at a turkey farm in Atalissa and the labor and immigration law violations at Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville -- are alarmingly common in Iowa.
by the nonprofit center in Iowa City cited a 2009 study of low-wage earners in three large U.S. cities that found that between a quarter and three-quarters of workers were victims of wage theft, losing an average of $51 a week, or 10 to 15 percent of their total earnings
Wage theft is most commonly experienced by women, Latinos, immigrants, and by those paid in cash, on a non-hourly basis and by those working for small businesses. National studies have shown that it is most prevalent in food service, construction and landscaping, child care and domestic jobs.
"Workers' hard-earned wages are being stolen, the state is losing revenues, and good businesses are being put at a market disadvantage against shifty competitors," said Colin Gordon, IPP senior research consultant and lead author of the report, which estimates that low-wage Iowa workers are robbed of about $600 million a year, costing the state some $60 million in revenue.
A recent study by the Progressive States Network gave Iowa and 43 other states failing grades for what state laws they have in place "to comprehensively address this growing national crime wave." Iowa stood out as the state with the fewest enforcement resources per worker, employing only one investigator for the entire state, said the report.
The report focuses on various types of wage theft: nonpayment or underpayment of wages; employer confiscation of tips; employers' unauthorized deductions from paychecks; and the broad category of "misclassification," in which employees are improperly labeled as independent contractors or treated as salaried employees to avoid overtime rules.