The Health Impacts of Wage Theft: A Case Story
Wage theft—the failure of employers to pay workers the wages and benefits they have legally earned—is rampant in Los Angeles. Each week, low-wage workers, especially immigrants, women, and workers of color, lose approximately $26.2 million in wages, making Los Angeles the wage theft capital of the country. In 2009, the Los Angeles Coalition Against Wage Theft was formed and launched a campaign to pressure the LA City Council to address the issue.
What we did
In 2013, HIP partnered with the Los Angeles Coalition Against Wage Theft to conduct a Health Impact Assessment of the coalition’s proposed wage theft ordinance. The study drew from existing labor and public health research as well as focus groups with low-wage workers. We analyzed how wage theft affects income, living conditions, workplace environment, and time poverty – people are time poor when they work long hours and would fall deeper into financial poverty if they reduce the number of hours worked – and how these determinants impact physical and mental health.
What we found
When low-wage workers experience wage theft, their physical and mental health suffers. In addition, reduced income strains family well-being and relationships. The proposed wage theft ordinance would allow workers to collect unpaid wages owed to them and protect them from retaliation. As a result, their physical and mental health, and that of their families, would improve.
The Los Angeles Coalition Against Wage Theft used the HIA and associated advocacy by health professionals to deepen support for the ordinance among city council members. The ordinance, packaged with the $15 minimum wage increase, passed in 2015. In addition, the California Fair Paycheck Coalition used the HIA and advocacy from health professionals to win the passage of a statewide wage theft bill, SB 588, in 2015.