Imagine going to work but not getting paid. NBC 5 Investigates has found an alarming number of workers in the private sector who claim their past or current employers are stealing their wages.
Thousands of complaints are being filed with the Illinois Department Labor from employees reporting they are either not being paid for hours worked, not receiving overtime compensation or earning less than the minimum wage.
Workers call it wage theft.
“It became a constant battle of just getting my tiny bit of money,” said Alexandra Lipman, a former Chicago restaurant manager who claims her hours drastically increased at her old job but her paychecks did not.
Illinois Department of Labor (IDOL) statistics show 3,220 wage complaints were filed between 2014 and mid-2015, resulting in claims totaling $15,473,500 in lost or stolen wages. What’s more: experts who study wage theft said the damage could be much worse, as workers may be too afraid to report their lost or stolen wages for fear of losing their jobs.
Still, implementing changes could be difficult during the state’s budget impasse.
“You got to have the funding and the staffing in order to do the appropriate job,” Chaviano said.
IDOL also has a traditionally small work force, which currently includes just eight compliance officers and six wage claim specialists to investigate and process the hundreds of complaints filed each month. The IDOL also cannot force an employer to pay up.
“If they rule in favor of the worker, the employer still doesn’t have to pay and the Department of Labor cannot collect,” said Jorge Mujica of Arise Chicago, a group that fights for workers’ rights.
IDOL, however, can refer a deadbeat employer to the Illinois Attorney General.