Critics of U.S. Labor Law Reforms Hold U.S. Corporate Lobbies Responsible for Lower Labor Standards

According to an 2011-2012 report prepared by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a non-profit, non-partisan think tank dedicated to economic research, the country’s largest corporate lobbies have created a strong opposition front against U.S. labor standards and workplace protection. Despite the overall growth of the U.S. economy, the report indicates that the bottom 60 percent Americans have lost wealth from 1983 to 2010. Furthermore, the EPI estimates that one out of five Americans get paid less than the federally mandated minimum wage.

Because wage theft continues to occur, some states have created regulations requiring employers to keep detailed pay records, and enabling state officials to audit these records. In Florida, for example, Miami-Dade County was the first to enact wage-theft laws, which are to be enforced by the Department of Small Business Administration. Florida farmers have been a group that has enjoyed much needed protections that are now being challenged by corporate managers. The “hot goods” injunctions, which are a tool available to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), are one of the protections currently under attack. The DOL is currently able to directly ask a federal court to issue a ruling for a “hot goods” injunction under its mandate to investigate and remedy FLSA violations. These injunctions can force employees to fulfill their obligations to pay minimum wage by preventing the shipment, delivery or sale of goods produced through illegal means, until the employer complies with the law. This protection has benefited thousands of Floridian farmers. In 2010, the U.S. DOL was able to protect the rights of citrus workers who suffered from wage theft either through failure to pay overtime or missed payrolls, by ordering $173,000 in back wages.

However, according to the EPI, business lobbies have invested much effort and resources in challenging the constitutionality of wage-theft laws. In 2011, Palm Beach County in Florida attempted to enact a similar wage-theft law but business lobbies were successful in preventing its adoption by arguing that it would create expensive bureaucracy.

Currently, the farm bill on debate in the House of Representatives would require the DOL to “consult” with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) before imposing hot-goods injunctions. Critics emphasize that this may jeopardize the rights of employees because the DOA traditionally has been perceived as more favorable to agricultural employers. Also, another House bill under discussion proposes the removal of such injunctions for perishable agricultural commodities.

The EPI report focuses on analyzing legislation supported by major corporate lobbies, including the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Federation of Independent Business, as well as corporate-funded organizations including the Americans for Tax Reform, Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The EPI report reports that four states passed laws restricting the minimum wage, sixteen states limited their unemployment benefits and four decreased restrictions on child labor.

Other critics stress the need to protect fair labor standards by emphasizing that goods not produced under the conditions meeting minimum standards of free labor should not be admitted to interstate commerce. Also, they warn that farmers specially need protection because the “farmers” who have a political voice are corporate managers, instead of the 2 million men and women who are poorly paid for planting, tending and harvesting the crops.

If you believe you have been the victim of wage theft, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.