Wage theft is far more prevalent than often acknowledged. In fact, in recent years, the cost of wage theft has consistently been more than the cost of larceny, robberies, and other types of theft combined.
Though this graphic is from 2014, sadly, little has changed in the years since. In 2021, it’s estimated that around 15 billion in wages were stolen from workers, and like in any socioeconomic issue, the marginalized bear the brunt of the burden.
This article from June 6, 2022, highlights the unfortunate ubiquity of this situation. When a group of immigrant workers in Brooklyn noticed their paychecks were half of what they’d been promised, they brought it up to their boss at JLM Decorating. The boss assured workers that the company would pay them later.
The workers headed to the company’s address in hopes of directly addressing the issue with their supervisors. However, when they arrived at the location, they didn’t find an office or even a decorating storefront. Instead, they found a small shipping business.
The workers didn’t know it at the time, but there are over 2,000 companies registered to this address. Local advocacy groups say that the location is notorious as a registration address for various LLCs. It’s safe to assume the address is a front for wage theft (neglectful landlords and management companies are also registered to this address for similar reasons). One labor attorney mentioned that she’s seen 5 different cases of wage theft committed by the companies at this address.
According to the article, “At least 15 wage theft cases involving several workers had been associated with [the address], according to three different nonprofit organizations.” But JLM Decorating appears to be particularly egregious. Some of the wage theft cases filed against them involve hundreds of workers (none of which are unionized). In cases already settled, JLM has stolen around $50,000 from multiple workers.
The workers at JLM filed a suit with the Department of Labor in 2019. It remains unresolved.
Stories such as this highlight the importance of worker centers in our current context. The DOL has been unresponsive for 3 years, and all of the wage theft cases reported upon in this article were facilitated by non-governmental organizations. Additionally, considering that many of those most affected by wage theft are immigrants (frequently undocumented), recourse from the DOL remains woefully inaccessible to many.
Worker centers fill the gaps. A systemic erosion of labor law and a deliberate anti-union movement spanning decades have left workers vulnerable to injustices and manipulation in the workplace, with wage theft being one of countless examples of exploitation. By having a non-governmental organization to turn to, workers can evade some of the bureaucracy that delays the recourse they need.
Worker Justice Wisconsin, along with the many NYC organizations mentioned in the article, serve to support workers in recovering lost wages, filing workers’ comp, dealing with discrimination, and more. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or explore our website for more information on the role we play.
Economic Policy Institute, 2014
199 Lee Avenue, located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NYC; the de jure address of JLM Decorating, LLC, and at least 2000+ other LLCs registered to neglectful landlords, sketchy employers, and similarly unsavory business practitioners.
The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Williamburg, Brooklyn, is around $4,200/month.