Big day at DC Council for Wage Theft and Ban the Box bills!

Tuesday was an eventful day at the DC Council!  After years of grassroots organizing, the “Ban the Box” and “Wage Theft” bills were voted on by the DC Council for their first time. The Wage Theft Prevention Act of 2014 aims to put in place stronger policies to deter unscrupulous employers from cheating their employees out of their wages.  As it currently stands, there are few effective ways for workers to recover wages they are owed and little protection for employees that speak out against their bosses wage theft practices.  This system makes it easy for employers to get away with stealing from their workers and creates a disadvantage for businesses that follow the law properly.  DC JwJ and the Wage Theft Coalition have been advocating for the current bill, championed by by Councilmember Vincent Orange, which proposes to change that by putting in place penalties and fines from employers that commit wage theft and creating a better process for workers to recover their money. DC residents, workers, and advocates gathered outside the DC Council at 9:30am for a rally highlight the issues of wage theft and employment discrimination against returning citizens. Before the initial vote on the Ban the Box and Wage Theft Prevention bills, a clear message was sent to councilmembers: “Stand with Workers! Apoye los trabajadores!.” Allies and supporters from the Wage Theft Coalition and Ban the Box advocates filled the council hearing room to highlight the importance of these bills.  Despite strong support from councilmembers, the DC Chamber of Commerce and other business interests groups had been lobbying behind the scenes for amendments they hoped could water down the strength of...

Wage Theft in the Spotlight at DC Council

Cold weather didn’t stop over 75 people from showing up on the steps of the City Council on Friday morning for a rally calling for an end to wage theft in the District and the passage of new legislation to tackle the issue.  The crowd gathered with signs and “No Wage Theft” stickers at 8:30 AM before the scheduled committee hearing on the Wage Theft Prevention Act of 2014.  The bill, co-introduced by Councilmembers Orange (At- large), Cheh (Ward 4), and Graham (Ward 1) with a number of co-sponsors, will create better protections for workers that speak out for their rights, as well as create a mechanism for issuing enforceable judgements at the Office of Wage-Hour that can result in penalties for employers that repeatedly break the law. Community members shared their moving stories and demanded and end to wage theft during the rally outside before the committee hearing.  Beyond explaining that people should be paid fairly for the work they do, speakers also adamantly stated that wage theft is an issue that hurt everyone.  By not penalizing employers that break the law, business that do the right are at a competitive disadvantage, since not paying workers effectively becomes an interest-free loan.   Ari Weissbard, Director of the Employment Justice Center, explained in his testimony that DC received an F on a recent study as a result of how widespread wage theft is in the city.  “A worker is more likely to be robbed by their employer than they are  on the street or at home.”  Yet, while there are channels to receive renumeration for most theft and penalties against...

Mayoral Candidates Put on the Spot at People’s Platform Forum

On Saturday evening, Jobs with Justice was in attendance at the People’s Platform Mayoral Forum at THEARC on Mississippi Ave in Southeast.  The forum was organized by ONE DC and co-sponsored by DC Jobs with Justice and many other activist community groups working for a better DC. Mayor Gray was not present (he was attending a funeral), but all of the other mayoral candidates were on stage.  Candidates were asked to answer tough questions ranging from housing to gentrification to jobs, while audience members gave feedback by demonstrating their support or dislike of the answers by holding up green or red cards.   Two workers stood up to ask about what the candidates plan to do about the issue of wage theft in DC and whether they support the newly proposed legislation.  While Bonds said she “thinks” she is in support of it, Wells and Shallal both emphatically said that they could not understand why anyone wouldn’t support workers getting paid their fair share – that’s what we like to hear!   ONE DC will be having their annual meeting next Saturday, March 15th at 1pm in at the New Community Church at 614 S Street NW....

DC Jobs with Justice at the “Ban the Box” Hearing!

Councilmember Tommy Wells, chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, held a hearing at the Wilson Building on new legislation to “Ban the Box.”  The bill would prevent employers from asking job candidates about their criminal history on their applications.  The hearing gave the public a chance to testify about the wording on the proposed “Fair Criminal Record Screening Act of 2014” (1). During the 4 hour hearing, almost 40 people gave testimony about the legislation.  The stacked line-up included many public witnesses, as well as advocates from many community organization speaking in support of the bill (2).  Among those who presented were the Reentry Network for Returning Citizens,  DC Employment Justice Center (EJC), Restaurant Opportunity Center (ROC), Bread for City, and our very own Executive Director, Nikki Lewis! As Councilmember Wells explained, DC is estimated to have 60,000 residents with criminal histories and approximately 8,000 returning citizens annually.  With the current background check for employment and housing applications, finding a stable job and place to live is nearly impossible for these formerly incarcerated individuals, as many of the public witnesses conveyed in their testimony.  As a result, residents and family members of those that have had previous contact with the criminal justice system are unfairly forced to suffer unequal discrimination.  With our broken system not providing the opportunity for employment and housing, many end up back in jail. Perhaps because of the strong public support for the bill, Wells expressed that he plans to make sure the bill passes as one of the most comprehensive pieces of ban the box legislation in the nation.  Significantly, however, many testimonies applauded...

Big day at the DC Council tomorrow

Tomorrow, February 4th promises to be an important day for working people at the DC Council legislative hearing. First, Councilmember Vincent Orange has pledged to introduce a bill on combating wage theft – a bill which would increase penalties for employers who rob their workers of wages, beef up enforcement at the Dept. of Employment Services, and strengthen protections for workers who blow the whistle on bad employers. On top of that, tomorrow’s hearing will also include a vote on a bill that would decriminalize marijuana possession. In July of last year, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs released a study revealing that people of color in DC were disproportionately arrested, especially for nonviolent crimes and drug offenses. DC residents and community organizations have long organized around this issue of our law enforcement effectively criminalizing certain populations, and this vote – if successful – would be one more step toward eradicating this injustice. With the vote tomorrow, it is worth noting that one Councilmember – at-large CM Anita Bonds – spoke definitively just last week about her support for decriminalization. See the video below for her statement. [youtube height=”HEIGHT”...