Texas bill would create public database of wage thieves

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Under a new bill making its way through the Texas legislature, the state would create a publicly searchable database of companies and employers that commit wage theft — a serious problem in a state that only sees 50 percent of offenders pay back stolen wages.

The bill, introduced last November by Democratic state Rep. Mary Gonzalez, would require the state’s workforce commission to maintain the database of offenders. Wage theft can take different forms, such as employers skimping on overtime for hourly workers or paying below minimum wage, which has been $7.25 per hour in Texas since 2009.

The database that would be created under Gonzalez’s bill would publish the names of each manager, owner and business that purposely withheld wages from employees and never paid them back. Though the bill doesn’t punish offenders monetarily, it would give workers, activists and politicians the ability to identify consistent violators. Right now, that information is only available through a public records request, something potential employees are unlikely to make of their future employer, particularly if they’re undocumented.

But the bill would give offending employers time to pay owed wages before they are added to the database. Companies that are ordered by the state’s labor commission to pay back wages have 30 days to do so; if they don’t comply, the state has 180 days to notify them they’re going to be added to the database, during which they can dispute the offense. Once an employer is added to the database, though, the identifying information would be searchable for three years or until they’re convicted of having committed wage theft.

The bill has been introduced four times since 2013 by Gonzalez, who has said her state is a haven for wage thieves. A 2017 study of U.S. Census Bureau surveys by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute found that Texas workers, especially in fields like construction, lose more money to wage theft than in any other state. Because offenses aren’t publicly available or searchable, Gonzalez has said, employers that regularly steal wages are rarely held accountable.

“There’s this giant loophole that allows companies to become offenders over and over again,” she told the Houston Chronicle in 2017.

Gonzalez’s bill passed the majority-Republican Texas House April 11. It is now being considered by the state Senate’s committee on natural resources and economic development, which endorsed a similar bill in 2017. Texas’s legislative session ends on May 28.

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government transparency, Open Data, Texas, wage theft
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