(CBS4) - Some Colorado employers are stealing the wages of their workers and new research shows it's hurting all of us. The Colorado Fiscal Institute says last year workers here lost nearly $730 million to wage theft. Meanwhile, the state lost about $45 million in tax revenue for roads, schools and other public services.
The Fiscal Institute says Latinos are targeted most and women are more likely than men to be victims of wage theft. It says it's most prevalent in the hospitality, retail and construction industries and the state's lowest-paid workers are the ones at the highest risk of having their wages stolen. About 440 thousand low-wage workers in Colorado were victims of wage theft last year, according to the Fiscal Institute.
Jhoana Garcia is one of them. She says a contractor strung her along for a month with promises she'd get paid while the single mom struggled to feed her kids.
"Since I have kids I was looking for a way to sell burritos to earn money, to be able to feed them and pay my bills," said Garcia.
In desperation, she filed a complaint with the Department of Labor and won. That was four years ago. She says she still hasn't been paid. And she's not alone.
"In the carpentry trade, it's rampant," says Jordan Jones with the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters.
He asked state lawmakers to step in after helping dozens of workers like Garcia win judgments that, he says, are meaningless because they aren't enforced,
"They get a judgment filed that yes, this contractor does in fact owe you $7,000, $8,000 up to $40,000 and that judgment needs to be paid within 14 days, but in many cases that doesn't happen. We don't know any that has been paid yet. We have judgments back to 2019," said Garcia.
"That is outrageous," says Senators Sonya Jaquez Lewis.
She and Senator Jessie Danielson are sponsors of a bill that goes after employers who refuse to pay with automatic fines, court-issued liens against their property, and a warning for other employees at the company.
"We're going to go after every single company that's doing this," says Jaquez Lewis.
Jones says if employers aren't held accountable, they'll continue to take steal the wages of those who can least afford it.
"It's a disgusting labor practice," said Jones.
While wage theft is a felony, many workers like Garcia are intimidated by the legal system.
"I hope that it will help, not only me, but all people who are in this situation," said Garcia.
The bill would also set up a workers protection unit in the Attorney General's Office to investigate companies who are repeatedly taking advantage of their employees.
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