Anecdotally, it seems that wage & hour class actions are a subject of incresingly polarized views, both in and out of court. Proponents of wage & hour class actions champion the need for private enforcement of wage & hour laws to protect workers. Opponents decry the burdens they impose on businesses, describing wage & hour class actions as an "epidemic." (I'm working on a detailed analysis of the "epidemic" charge and will have more to say on that subject at a later date.) But a newly released study of wage-law violations in major U.S. cities provides fresh ammunition to the advocates of employee rights.
Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers, a report by the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, the National Employment Law Project and the Center for Urban Economic Development, summarizes findings of a 2008 study in which 4,387 workers in low-wage industries in the three largest U.S. cities — Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City — were surveyed to identify wage & hour violations. The survey found that:
Finding 1: Workplace Violations Are Severe and Widespread in Low-Wage Labor Markets
We found that many employment and labor laws are regularly and systematically violated, impacting a significant part of the low-wage labor force in the nation’s largest cities. The framework of worker protections that was established over the last 75 years is not working.
Finding 2: Job and Employer Characteristics Are Key to Understanding Workplace Violations
Workplace violations are ultimately the result of decisions made by employers—whether to pay the minimum wage or overtime, whether to give workers meal breaks, and how to respond to complaints about working conditions. We found that workplace violations are profoundly shaped by job and employer characteristics.
Finding 3: All Workers Are at Risk of Workplace Violations
Workplace violations are not limited to immigrant workers or other vulnerable groups in the labor force — everyone is at risk, although to different degrees.
Report (excerpts from Executive Overview), at 2-5. The New York Times ran one of the earliest articles about this Study, but since they couldn't be bothered to give me timely permission to quote any portion of their article, I can't be bothered to link to it. The study's authors discovered what has been known by plaintiffs' attorneys in the wage & hour field for years - violations of wage & hour laws are at pandemic levels:
We found that there are significant, pervasive violations of core workplace laws in many low-wage industries. Workers are being paid less than the minimum wage and not receiving overtime pay. They are working off the clock without pay, and not getting meal breaks. When injured, they are not receiving workers’ compensation. And they are retaliated against when they try to assert their rights or attempt to organize.
Report (Introduction), at 9.