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June 23, 2014
Another View: Honest businesses deserve level field that AB 2416 would promote

janitor.JPG(June 23 - By Fabian Loera, Special to The Bee)

Dan Walters puts the focus on the rampant crime of employers stealing from workers' paychecks ("Wage theft solution a true puzzle," June 19).

But Walters sees the issue as a worker vs. employer issue. In fact, it poses a serious threat to businesses like my small, janitorial services company that pay the minimum wage, pay overtime and don't require off-the-clock work.

Since current law hasn't actually stopped unscrupulous employers from cheating workers, our minimum wage, overtime and other labor laws are, in essence, operating on the honor system. I am the son of hardworking immigrants - and I see my parents in the people who work for me now. I would never cheat them, but I have to win contracts against companies who do. As a result, I routinely get underbid.

Resolving this problem is a moral imperative, as Walters notes, but also an economic necessity: Billions of dollars are stolen every year from workers' paychecks. This hurts workers, their families and the local businesses where they shop and eat. It makes it harder for law-abiding businesses to win contracts, and it keeps entire sectors of our economy and millions of workers under the thumb of the bad actors.

Assembly Bill 2416 by Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, would allow companies like mine to compete on a level playing field. Fewer than one in five workers who win a judgment for stolen wages ever sees a penny of that money, because employers simply close up shop or change their names. Giving workers the ability to put a temporary hold on a company's assets while their case is reviewed will make it harder for a dishonest employer to slip away.

A similar law in Wisconsin has boosted the wage recovery rate to 70 percent, without unfairly burdening businesses. AB 2416 would protect honest businesses by giving workers a timeline to prove their claims, creating a process for removing liens, and levying tough penalties to deter false claims. Businesses can avoid having a lien put on their property by posting a bond - or simply by following the current law and paying workers what they earn.

When the Chamber of Commerce and others say they're standing up for business by opposing AB 2416, they're really defending a status quo that lets unscrupulous companies cheat workers and undercut honest businesses like mine.

Fabian Loera owns Sunrise Floor Systems, a janitorial services company in Temecula.