Soapbox

California Chamber doesn’t condone wage theft

A Spanish-language ad campaign against wage theft was promoted by the state Labor Commissioner in 2014.
A Spanish-language ad campaign against wage theft was promoted by the state Labor Commissioner in 2014. Vida file

Mark Schacht’s recent op-ed on wage theft (“Let California’s workers recover stolen pay,” Viewpoints, Feb. 9) falsely portrays the California Chamber of Commerce.

To be clear, CalChamber deplores wage theft and supports vigorous enforcement against dishonest companies. In fact, we supported the state labor commissioner’s efforts and statewide campaign to vigorously pursue wage theft and other labor code violations.

 
Opinion

Employers’ efforts to reform the Private Attorney General Act have never been about stealing wages. Rather, this effort has consistently focused on making sure employees who have legitimately been treated unfairly receive compensation, not enrich the trial attorneys who represent them.

PAGA is financially lucrative for lawyers given its strict liability standard for violations of almost any section of the state labor code. This makes it ripe for abuse. By purporting to represent “injured” employees, trial attorneys can go after any company for unintended, minor and technical violations that do no actual harm to workers.

As a result, employers are being regularly subjected to frivolous claims. Recently, one company was sued for $16 million for failing to include the designation “LP” (limited partnership) on an employee’s pay stub. Nobody ever claimed that any employee lost wages due to this oversight, yet the lawyers wound up with millions of dollars. Another company faced a $14 million lawsuit because it did not include the ending date of the pay period on an employee’s pay stub. In hundreds of other cases, trial attorneys are paid huge sums of money.

PAGA lawsuits have exploded by 400 percent over the last eight years, according to a recent Los Angeles Daily Journal article. It is the responsibility of reputable organizations such as CalChamber to counter this abuse of the legal system.

Over the years, CalChamber has consistently worked alongside labor unions on legislation to provide the labor commissioner with more tools and authority to pursue legitimate claims and investigations against bad employers. Reform of PAGA is necessary to protect workers and shut down a windfall for trial lawyers.

Jennifer Barrera is senior vice president of policy for the California Chamber of Commerce. She can be contacted at j.barrera@calchamber.com.

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