The Denver City Council passed an ordinance Monday to help victims of wage theft by allowing them to file a complaint with the city auditor rather than going through the court system.
Victims of wage theft often do not seek restitution because of expensive legal fees, a lengthy process and fear of retaliation.
Under the new ordinance, after a complaint is filed, Denver Labor will investigate. If wage theft is found, victims will receive their withheld wages plus interest.
The ordinance applies to workers in any industry and includes independent contractors.
Under the new rule, Denver Labor has also been empowered to levy penalties on companies and employers that do not comply.
Maryland Roe, a home care worker for aging adults, has been fighting for unpaid wages for years without progress and says something needs to change.
“The federal board has ruled in favor of me, but I still haven’t been paid, and that was two years ago. Where is the justice?” she said.
Jordan Jones says unpaid wages by contractors is a huge issue that prevents carpenters from being able to put food on their table.
“There’s so many contractors who will take those profits and (say), "Oh, come back next week." Well, I’m scared. I don’t want to loose my job, and I have double coming to me next time. So, I stay,“ Jones said.
The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce was the sole speaker in opposition to the wage theft ordinance.
Councilman Kevin Flynn addressed businesses' concerned about the penalties.
"I know there are employers, contracts and companies that are concerned. But I want to tell them, I think I found a loophole, and that is to pay your workers every damn cent they earn," Flynn said in the meeting.
Wage theft occurs in many ways: an employer may refuse to pay an employee, deny overtime, or force employees to work through legal meal breaks. It can also occur in the form of illegal deductions.
The top industry violators are accommodation and food services, manufacturing, construction and retail trade.
“We've been working on this since 2019. And, you know, we're just really excited to get this passed because wage theft is still the most common form of theft nationwide. And in this time of prolonged economic downturn, it's just really imperative that the essential workers that held us down during the pandemic are able to get paid what they deserve and the wages owed to them,” said Sofia Solano, an organizer with Colorado Jobs With Justice.
The Colorado Fiscal Institute says over 440,000 Colorado workers experience wage theft. Colorado employers steal about $730 million from employees through wage theft every year.