Council Set to Pass Anti-Wage-Theft Ordinance

Legislation would allow city to revoke tax credits and bar employers caught cheating workers from future city contracts

click to enlarge Two immigrant laborers work on a Warren County job site on a recent Saturday.
Two immigrant laborers work on a Warren County job site on a recent Saturday.

Employers who don’t pay their workers might have new penalties to worry about after Cincinnati City Council’s Feb. 3 meeting.

Council is poised to approve a new ordinance that would allow the city to rescind tax agreements and force repayment of incentives such as grants if a company is caught committing wage theft. The city could also bar a company caught not paying its workers from receiving future city contracts.

Council’s Budget and Finance Committee passed the ordinance 6-0 Feb. 1. Though it doesn’t create any new laws, the ordinance gives the city more options for enforcing existing state and federal anti-wage theft legislation.

Vice Mayor David Mann authored the ordinance, which came about through a push from the Over-the-Rhine based Interfaith Workers Center. Brennan Grayson, director of the IWC, says the ordinance is modeled on similar measures taken in other major cities.

A number of wage theft cases have been documented in Cincinnati and across Ohio. Between 2005 and 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor seized more than $6.5 million in wages construction companies shorted 5,500 Ohio workers laboring on public projects.

This summer, CityBeat wrote about immigrants who were initially shorted wages for their construction work on a fraternity near the University of Cincinnati. The workers were eventually able to gain back thousands of dollars in unpaid wages with the help of IWC.

Migrant workers are especially vulnerable to wage theft, often due to vulnerabilities that arise from limited language proficiency or, sometimes, their undocumented status.

“It’s no secret that people who don’t speak English are viewed as not being in a position to complain,” Councilman Wendell Young said at the budget and finance meeting.
Young would like to see additional measures that involve the city’s newly created Office of Economic Inclusion in wage theft-related issues.