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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Hollow Victories: The Crisis in Collecting Unpaid Wages for California's Workers

  • Author(s): Cho, Eunice Hyunhye
  • Koonse, Tia
  • Mischel, Anthony
  • et al.

This report exposes a surprising, but unfortunately common problem facing low-wage workers in California and nationwide. Workers whose employers have failed to pay them face serious challenges in recovering their hard-earned wages — even after state authorities have found in the workers’ favor and have issued a legally binding judgment ordering employers to pay. To a worker who has lost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in unpaid wages, winning a judgment is often at best a hollow victory. Non-payment or underpayment of wages, moreover, remains rampant nationwide. As a landmark survey of low-wage workers found in 2008, 26 percent of low-wage workers were paid less than the minimum wage in the prior week; 76 percent of those who worked more than 40 hours were not paid the legally required overtime rate. More than two-thirds of low-wage workers have experienced at least one payrelated violation in the previous work week—leading workers to lose an average of $2,634 annually due to workplace violations.

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