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March 17, 2010; Washington Post | One would think having a job is better than not these days. But one Washington, D.C. nonprofit is sounding the alarm about a growing trend among employers to commit wage theft—either skipping or scrimping on wages.

Most of those affected appear to be immigrants who don’t speak English and who hold construction, restaurant and janitorial jobs, according to the Washington Post. In response, and as a first step, groups such as D.C. Jobs With Justice are providing training to low-skilled workers so they can collect the information they need to take legal action.

If that doesn’t work, they’ll next resort to tactics that shame employers into paying up, such as picketing them or asking companies that subcontract to the deadbeats to pressure them to fork over what they owe.

Evidence suggests, however, that legal remedies may be slow and ineffective. One paralegal who has helped workers get back wages through Washington, D.C.’s District’s Office of Wage-Hour, part of the city’s Department of Employment Services, told the Post that staff members only succeeded in seven out of 26 cases. Even though in the other cases employers ignored calls to pay up, only one claim has been sent to the attorney general’s office for action.

John Tremblay, a paralegal with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs who has been helping these ripped-off employees said, “From what I’ve seen, if an employer wants to ignore the summons from Wage and Hour, there just aren’t going to be any consequences. [The staff] is fine with just letting the cases sit there in limbo.”

What all this suggests is that fighting for workers’ rights could be the next growth industry.—Bruce Trachtenberg