Pizza-maker Papa John’s franchisees signed a $500,000 settlement to pay back 250 employees who suffered wage theft by their franchise employer. Nine restaurants throughout New York City—in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, were involved in the settlement to compensate workers for unpaid overtime and un-clocked labor.
Wage theft in New York State is prosecuted as both a civil and criminal matter, thanks in part to the Democratic NY Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, who has campaigned on this highly important issue. The culpable owner of the nine Papa John’s franchises, Abdul Jamil Khokhar, was arrested in July. He is facing a charge of up to two months in jail for violating minimum wage and overtime laws. Although this is not a significant amount of time, the situation for labor law abusers in other states is worse; most do not treat this matter as criminal. The criminal action against Khokhar is setting a good precedent, as is making the franchisees pay back their debt to their workers.
Unfortunately, in most situations wage theft is not even acknowledged, let alone charged. A 2013 study conducted by Anzalone Listz Grove Research published staggering results on this type of legalized theft; 84% of fast food employees and 100% of food delivery workers in New York City have experienced some form of wage theft. This amounts to a considerable amount of money. The Economic Policy Institute cited a three-city study in 2009 that quantified this, finding that the average minimum or low wage employee has approximately $2,634 stolen from them by their employer each year. This amounts to employers stealing 50 billion dollars from their labor force annually, when measured on a national level.
In order to reform this sickening national problem, state Attorney Generals should pursue the perpetrators of wage theft; exploitative employers. These employers must be tried on a criminal level so that stealing from their workers is no longer the norm, but comes with a punishment. Americans also have to stand up to put this issue into the national consciousness—campaigning not only for minimum wage hikes, but also for the prosecution of exploitative employers at every level. This is too big of a problem to continue to be ignored—when the low-income labor force has their wages openly stolen by their employers, everyone in the nation, at all levels, is affected.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.