Construction is one of the fields in which workers sometimes don't get the pay due to them.
Construction is one of the fields in which workers sometimes don't get the pay due to them.
The Oregon Legislature in its brief session almost unanimously strengthened protections against wage theft — workers who are not paid or are underpaid.

But as of press time, Senate Bill 1587 has yet to be signed by Gov. Kate Brown. A spokeswoman from Brown’s office says a legal team is reviewing the bill. Meanwhile, a local workers’ coalition says the legislation is not strong enough.

Wage theft happens when employers pay less than the minimum wage, fail to pay overtime, force employees to work under the table, issue paychecks that bounce or deny legally required meal and rest breaks. Some outfits skip town without paying workers at all.

The proposed law would make some wage violations a Class C felony and authorize the Bureau of Labor Industries’ Wage and Hour Division to hire three new full-time wage and hour investigators.

“This bill gives us new enforcement tools to hold corporations accountable and ensure that Oregonians are paid every dime they’ve earned – on time and in full,” Brad Avakian, Oregon Labor Commissioner, said when the legislation passed. “Strong wage enforcement is critical for both working families and other employers who follow the rules and do right by their workers.”

The Oregon Coalition to Stop Wage Theft worked hard on the bill, but withdrew support when lawmakers removed a provision that would have allowed workers to force employers to comply with the law through the courts.

“This was such a critical component for workers to enforce their rights, that without it, the coalition could not support the bill,” says Michael Dale, executive director of the group.

“While Senate Bill 1587 is a first step toward protecting workers from wage theft, the reality is that it’s going to take a lot more to fix what’s broken with our system,” says Dale. “The barriers for workers to reclaim their stolen wages remain despite this bill.”

Matt Cato, director of the Archdiocese of Portland’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace is part of The Oregon Coalition to Stop Wage Theft. The group plans another try at a stronger bill in 2017.