Central Ohio needs a Department of Labor that protects workers
- February 15, 2017
Many Columbus workers are vulnerable to unfair labor practices
Today, a group of local worker and community advocates held a press conference voicing opposition to President Trump’s nominee for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder. Policy Matters Ohio researcher Hannah Halbert delivered a statement at the press conference, which can be found below.
A weakened Department of Labor led by a hostile secretary could have devastating consequences for Columbus workers. An outsized portion of the city’s residents hold low-paid service jobs – especially in the fast food and restaurant industry. These workers need a raise and need to be protected from unfair and unsafe employer practices. The Department of Labor is often the last line of defense for working families.
By some measures, Columbus is a bright spot in the state’s economic recovery, but just below the surface lies deep inequity that could be made worse by eroding worker protections. Fast-food workers, cashiers and restaurant servers account for about 7 percent of Columbus employment – or about 80,000 people. These jobs pay a wage so low that a full-time, year-round worker earning the median wage can’t keep a family of three out of poverty. Seven of the ten largest occupations in Columbus pay so little that a full-time, year-round worker earning the median wage is probably eligible for food assistance.
Good public policy could offer real improvements for working families in Central Ohio. The now stalled update of the federal overtime rule would have helped 351,000 Ohio workers get paid for all the hours they work. Increasing the minimum wage to $12 by 2021 would give a raise to 88,000 Columbus workers – including one out of every four working women. At least one parent of 67,000 Columbus kids would get a raise from a minimum wage increase. The overwhelming majority of Columbus workers who would get a raise are adults (85.7 percent) struggling to raise and provide for their families, not teens working summer jobs.
Over the last two years 53 Columbus employers violated federal wage and hour protections. These claims covered more than 1,000 workers and resulted in more than $822,000 in back pay awards and civil penalties. The violations occurred in low-wage industries like food services but also in nursing care facilities, hospitals, construction and power distribution. Wage enforcement and worker health and safety protections are certainly needed in the service sector and the low-wage economy, but violations occur across industries and incomes. A weakened Department of Labor puts all workers at risk.
State policy has been at best weak and at worst a barrier to protecting working people. The Ohio legislature recently barred cities and other municipalities from improving upon state wage and hour laws. The state also underinvests in wage and hour enforcement. With only six state investigators Ohio has one of the most poorly staffed wage and hour divisions in the nation. Because the legislature has failed to address these gaps, much is left to the federal Department of Labor. Ohio workers have a lot to lose under a Department of Labor focused on advancing the extremist agenda of some corporate employers like Andrew Puzder, rather than on worker health, safety and advancement.