Kasey Hughart: Oklahoma workers remain vulnerable to wage theft

Kasey Hughart worked as an intern at the Oklahoma Policy Institute while attending the University of Tulsa as a Sociology major/Spanish minor.  Kasey is active in advocating for immigrant rights as the co-affiliate lead for DREAM Act Oklahoma, an official affiliate within the United We DREAM National Network. Kasey hopes to pursue a career in social work after graduate school. 

Wage theft, or an employer’s failure to pay a worker for completed labor, has emerged as a serious danger in the 21st century labor market.  According to a 2011 report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), wage theft is widespread. It is not limited to a specific industry or employer, and it is frequently deliberate.  It can take many forms, including “being paid less than the minimum wage, working off the clock without pay, getting less than time and a half for overtime hours, having tips stolen, and seeing illegal deductions taken out of paychecks.”

Despite basic protections guaranteed to workers by minimum wage and overtime laws, waning resources for enforcement make these protections inadequate.  Ever-changing forms of employment, including outsourcing to subcontractors and classifying workers as independent contractors, have moved growing numbers outside the protection of the law. All workers are at risk, but the most vulnerable groups are women, immigrants, and people of color.

The Fair Labor Standards Act establishes a nationwide minimum wage floor of $7.25 an hour, as well as record-keeping requirements and child-labor protections.  States are not allowed to weaken federal standards, but they may enact stronger standards or cover more workers.  Minimum wage has been set higher than the federal level in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Nine states provide for automatic minimudol.gov/whd/flsam wage increases to keep pace with inflation, so its buying power does not go down every year. Oklahoma is not one of those states.

Even if we don’t increase the minimum wage above federal levels, we should make sure that it is enforced. The National Employment Law Project outlines the importance of enacting additional wage theft policies at the state and municipal level, such as:

raising the cost to employers for violating the law; making government agencies effective enforcers of the law; providing better worker protection from retaliation; ensuring workers are paid for all hours worked; ending exclusions in minimum wage and overtimes laws; putting an end to independent contractor misclassification and holding subcontracting employers accountable; and guaranteeing that workers can collect from their employers.

One troubling gap is that Oklahoma denies minimum wage and overtime protections to domestic workers, a category that lumps in teenage babysitters with full-time home health care aides. Comprehensive protections for all workers in the state, and especially for vulnerable groups, are critical to make sure workers are paid what they deserve.


3 thoughts on “Kasey Hughart: Oklahoma workers remain vulnerable to wage theft

  1. While all employees deserve a living wage, medicaid does not reimburse enough to pay that and overtime. All people employed as homecare and HTS for Developmentally disabled are at low wages andthey have to have two or three jobs. Sometimes working at one agency to get all the necessary hours and providing consistancy to the individuals is in the best interest for the staff and customer.
    Employers would love to pay overtime and a higher wage. The main issue is reimbursement. When you get $14.52 an houre and pay at least $9 add taxes ane insurance as well as work comp there is no money to pay overtime. I would like to more efforts to helping raise the reimbursement.

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