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    Center on Policy Initiatives

fighting wage theft & retaliation

Understanding wage theft

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About $2 billion are stolen from California workers each year due to minimum wage violations alone.

What is Wage Theft?

Wage theft occurs any time a worker is paid less than they earned.

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Wage theft is a major problem that affects all workers, especially workers the system undervalues, like recent immigrants and workers in industries that pay the lowest wages. Workers shouldn’t go into debt, or risk losing their jobs, homes, and/or food and care for their families because they stand up for their rights on the job.

A worker justice fund would provide financial assistance to workers experiencing wage theft or other violations of their rights. A worker justice fund can ensure workers who file claims are paid the money they are legally owed and allow workers to cover housing and other necessities, preventing them from going into further financial hardship. Covering workers’ loss of wages and providing financial assistance will promote workers’ rights, health, and safety and empower more workers to report violations.

Only 9% of workers in California who won court wage theft judgments received the full amount of money owed to them.

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On June 13th the County Board of Supervisors approved the Workplace Justice Fund! 

$100,000 was allocated for the fund, right now the fund works in two ways:

Workers can get up to $4,000 if their employer retaliates against them after filing a wage theft complaint with the County’s Office of Labor Standards. 
Many employers just don’t pay even if a worker wins their case. Any worker who has filed and won a wage theft judgment can get up to $3000 from the fund. Then the County will work to recover all money owed to the employee. 

State Bills we're supporting

SB 497: equal pay and anti-retaliation act

Every day in California hundreds of thousands of workers experience wage theft, harassment, and abuse. Every worker is entitled to safety and dignity on the job. Today, bosses get away with retaliation because they have the power to bully and silence workers for demanding fairness and respect. It doesn’t have to be this way.

The Equal Pay and Anti-Retaliation Act (SB497) can change the gross imbalance of power and reduce workplace abuse. SB 497 would create an assumption that a negative action against an employee is retaliation when it occurs within 90 days of a worker reporting a labor or equal pay violation. The bill would also allow whistleblowers to collect up to a $10,000 penalty. Currently, only the state may collect from lawbreaking employers.


Effective workplace laws require well-informed workers. Last year, California committed $50 million over two years to expand a historic worker outreach program that builds community resilience through workers’ rights education. Now the Governor proposes eliminating the program’s second year in 2024.

Workers in California’s low-wage industries still face hazards and exploitation. We have succeeded in creating a highly effective new piece of our workplace fairness infrastructure and cannot afford to discard it.

Building resilient and equitable communities requires empowering workers in low-wage industries to assert their rights. 

California must:

Preserve the second $25 million of the total $50 million committed to CWOP last year
Recognize that the need for this critical education work is not confined to the pandemic, and as we move into recovery, we should continue educating workers about their rights broadly, renaming the program the “California Workplace Outreach Program”

In the News

Justice for Warehouse Workers/ Justicia Para Trabajadores de almacen

join the fight against wage theft/ Unéte a la lucha contra robo de salario