Home care workers rally on Front Street in downtown San Diego to call for a raise in minimum wage to $15. Photo by Chris Stone

Workers face numerous obstacles in claiming unpaid wages, including non-enforcement of the city of San Diego’s minimum wage and earned sick leave law, a coalition of groups said Tuesday.

A report from the Center on Policy Initiatives, the Employee Rights Center of San Diego and the San Diego State University Department of Sociology found that only 82 minimum-wage theft claims for San Diego and Imperial Counties were filed with the state labor commissioner last year. Based on U.S. Department of Labor data, the number of actual violations in the two counties could have been as high as 40,000.

The report singled out the office of Mayor Kevin Faulconer for criticism, contending that city staff spent last year informing business owners about the new law and its posting requirements, but not taking enforcement actions. Potential claimants were referred to the state labor commissioner, according to the report.

“Widespread wage theft is robbing hard-working San Diegans of income they earned,” said CPI Executive Director Kyra Greene.

“The Labor Commissioner herself has said her office lacks the resources to tackle this crisis alone, and she urged the city to enforce its own law,” Greene said. “This report demonstrates why the mayor must act now to protect San Diego workers and law-abiding businesses by fighting wage theft.”

In response, the mayor’s office issued a statement that said, “On September 2, 2016, the city’s Earned Sick Leave and Minimum Wage implementing ordinance became effective designating the Office of the City Treasurer as the enforcement office. Since that time, all minimum wage laws have been enforced.”

The city of San Diego’s web page on the ordinance provides three options for workers who feel like they’ve been underpaid — filing a form that comes in five languages, suing the employer or filing a claim with the state labor commissioner.

The law raised the minimum wage above the statewide level and required businesses to give employees a minimum of five sick days a year. With another uptick on Jan. 1, the minimum wage in San Diego is $11.50 an hour, one dollar above the state standard.

A survey performed for the study found that workers declined to pursue their claims, or waited, out of fear of retaliation, doubts about success, and a lack of information on their rights, the law and the process. To a smaller extent, language barriers and immigration status played a role.

The report calls for the city to collaborate with the labor commissioner to conduct proactive, targeted investigations at work sites, look into reports of retaliation, fund outreach by organizations in close touch with the community and provide assistance to people filing claims.

–City News Service

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