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'Put The Exploiters In Jail': Wage Theft Bill Cracks Down On Employers

DENVER (CBS4) - State lawmakers want to crack down on bosses who don't pay up. Wage theft is a big problem in Colorado.

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The Colorado Fiscal Institute says more than 500,000 Colorado workers are victims of wage theft each year, losing an estimated $750 million. And right now, there's little prosecutors can do about it.

Under current state law, wage theft is a misdemeanor, no matter if it's $100 or $100,000.  Representatives Jonathan Singer and Meg Froelich plan to change that.

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"When a hard day's work is put in, an honest day's pay is deserved," said Singer.

He and Froelich have introduced a bill that would align wage theft with other thefts. If it's over $2,000, it would be a felony.

"Wage theft is perpetrated against the most vulnerable workers," said Froelich.

It is especially common in the construction and food service industries. Jim Gleason, a carpenter, says he was a victim.

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Jim Gleason (credit: CBS)

"We were getting paid every week until about the 4th or 5th week and we were informed that there wasn't enough money to make payroll so if we didn't mind waiting a week, we'd pay for two weeks the next week," he said. "Well, the next week came and there was no check. It's time we put the exploiters in jail and got the penalties that they deserve and give the wages to the people who deserve them."

The Colorado District Attorney's Council agrees.

"Why is it that someone should face a greater penalty for stealing your cellphone then for having your wages stolen?" asked Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty. "It is the exact same offense and should be treated the same under law and until we do so we're going to allow immigrants and poor people in this state to be victimized."

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Dougherty says wage theft is the means by which human traffickers keep victims under their control.

"An employer doesn't decide to steal an employee's wage just once. They do it over and over and over again and until we have the penalties and resources to go after them, they're going to keep doing it."

The Colorado Fiscal Institute says wage theft hurts everyone, resulting in $25-47 million in lost tax revenue as well as less overall spending, hurting the economy. It also puts honest businesses at a disadvantage.

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