Working Idahoans believe in receiving a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work. If you agree to do a job for an agreed-upon wage, that money should show up in your paycheck. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. For reasons innocent and sinister, hundreds of (if not more) Idahoans get shorted every year. As leaders who represent hard-working Idahoans, we don’t think that’s right. For the first time in a long time, your elected leaders can do something about it.
Every year, hundreds of working Idahoans file “wage theft” claims with the state Department of Labor. They seek to recover wages they were promised but never paid. This is their right under state law. The problem is, they can only recover unpaid wages for six months. If they’ve been shorted on payday for a full year, too bad.
House Bill 113 would allow workers to recover up to one-year of the money they worked for, earned, but were never paid. It’s a modest step toward ensuring an honest payday for working Idahoans. The legislation passed through the House unanimously and is heading to the Senate floor. We are hopeful our elected Senators vote to support our hardworking men and women who deserve—and could use—every cent they’ve worked for.
Chances are you know someone who has gotten shorted in their pay envelope. The workers affected by wage theft run the full spectrum of trades and professions—from construction workers, to retail employees, food service and the healthcare industry. Most victims are blue-collar workers who lose hundreds and even thousands of dollars over the course of a year. Those dollars add up quickly for someone who is trying to support a family, put food on the table and make rent every month. Giving those people the tools to recover the wages they’ve earned is not just the fair thing to do, it’s vital to their well-being and the security of their families.
Idaho is behind the curve on this issue. Many states have wage theft laws that allow workers to recoup several years’ worth of unpaid wages. Even if we increase the “look back” period to one year, we’re still very conservative compared to surrounding states. The argument for extending the recovery period to one year is backed by the data. Most workers notice they’ve been shorted wages on one of two occasions: (1) the Monday after they get their paycheck or (2) when they do their taxes. If it’s the first reason, they can act right away. However, given that we live in the age of direct deposit, many workers don’t notice the shortfall until they get their W-2s in January. That means they could have been shorted for an entire year. We believe those workers should have recourse to recover the wages they’ve earned.
We work constantly to improve the wealth and well-being of all Idahoans. Given the state of our Legislature, that remains an uphill battle. In the meantime, working Idahoans should be paid the wages they earn. Tell your state senators they can earn their paycheck by sticking up for working Idahoans.
Rep. Mat Erpelding, a Democrat, represents District 19 in the Idaho Legislature. Jason Hudson is director of government affairs for the Idaho AFL-CIO.