(VIDEO NOTE: This series ran in multiple parts on local newscasts over a series of months but was consolidated into two primary clips online. The composite above begins and ends with excerpts from a follow-up report.)
Wage theft robs workers of billions of dollars a year and costs Americans more than any other type of theft. The most common victims are low-wage earners, women, immigrants, and people of color.
In an effort to identify the scope of wage theft in California and potential solutions, CBS News Sacramento teamed up with the CalMatters Divide team to produce this series of reports. The more we reported, the more we learned about how California's system was broken.
- California's many wage theft laws aren't being enforced.
- The agency enforcing California's wage laws is itself violating state laws.
- The California Labor Commissioner's office is relying on incomplete and inaccurate data and it is too understaffed to effectively do its job.
- California's wage claim backlog is worse than any other state, even though California has the most wage theft regulations in the country.
- Even after California victims win their cases, 6 out of 7 never get paid.
Following These Reports:
- The Governor added a significant allocation in the state budget to specifically address the backlog and wait times identified in these reports.
- The CA Labor Commissioner expedited hiring and increased staffing.
- Lawmakers ordered an independent audit of the agency to investigate why it takes so long to clear worker claims of wage theft.
First, we set out to help viewers identify wage theft. Along the way, we exposed how state regulators are violating state law. The average wait time for California wage theft victims to get a court date and a decision was twice the maximum time allowed under state law.
In a follow-up solutions-journalism report, we revealed that even after victims win their cases, most never get paid.
In the interest of public service, we went further to identify and scrutinize possible solutions, sharing our findings with business leaders and lawmakers to learn more about how local solutions might be expanded to help all California wage theft victims.
This reporting ultimately demonstrates that fixing a problem isn't always as simple as passing a law.
The findings expose government failures and hold state regulators accountable while revealing the real, material consequences on the lives of California's most vulnerable workers.
We shared our findings, and contacts, with the CBS News & Stations Innovation Lab, which used our FOIAs to create a wage theft FOIA template. That led to an innovativeresulting in the most widespread local news examination of state-by-state wage theft policy to date. In response, the U.S. Labor Secretary publicly acknowledged that his office also needs to do better.
The national data compiled for our CBS sister stations ultimately enabled us to demonstrate, for the first time, that California's wage theft backlog was far worse than any other state, even though California has the most wage theft laws and protections in the country.
National Wage Theft Consumer-Investigation Reveals California Victims Wait Twice As Long For Resolution
In the wake of these reports, the Governor added a significant allocation in the state budget to specifically address the backlog and wait times identified in these reports. The CA Labor Commissioner has now expedited hiring and increased staffing. As a backstop, lawmakers ordered an independent audit of the agency, despite the opposition of labor unions. The Joint Legislative Audit Committee ordered the independent state auditor to investigate why it takes so long to clear worker claims of wage theft.
CalMatters' Jeanne Kuang, Alejandro Lazo, and Lil Kalish contributed to these reports.
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