At a recent city council "brown bag lunch," the kind often reserved for dull PowerPoint presentations, a group of fast-food workers did something unusual. They sat down and told lawmakers what they wanted: for the city to enforce laws that ban employers from stealing wages.
"We were nearly every day forced to work off the clock," alleged Caroline Durocher. Other fast-food workers, all of whom had participated in a fast-food strike in May, reported similar wage theft or other mistreatment on the job.
But even though the council unanimously passed an ordinance strengthening wage-theft protections in 2011, Council Member Tim Burgess pointed out that zero prosecutions have resulted. Said Burgess by e-mail, "I have not yet seen this become a priority for law enforcement, but it should be." (Police spokesman Sean Whitcomb says it is "incorrect" to claim it's not a priority and that detectives thoroughly investigate wage-theft claims.) One answer could be more proactively investigating wage theft instead of waiting for low-wage workers to put their livelihoods on the line by reporting their employers. But no one in city hall seems quite ready to call for that.