The Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division (WHD) may be failing to protect workers most vulnerable to employer violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has concluded.
From 1997 to 2007, the number of enforcement actions initiated by the WHD decreased by more than one-third, from approximately 47,000 to 30,000, the GAO found. From 2001 to 2007, the use of fines by the WHD declined 50 percent. The GAO further found that the WHD has not effectively used available information and tools in planning and conducting its compliance activities.
"Although the Department of Labor has the necessary tools to fight wage theft, the GAO investigation suggests that the problem of wage theft is only getting worse because of weaker enforcement," stated Rep. George Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. "In too many cases, the Wage and Hour Division has simply dropped the ball in pursuing employers that cheat workers out of their hard earned wages." Miller's committee held a hearing on July 15 on the enforcement record of the WHD.
The acting director of the WHD defended his agency's performance. "We believe we have achieved significant results for workers, and we will continue toward that end," Alexander J. Passantino testified. The WHD has recovered more than $1.25 billion for nearly 2 million workers since 2001. That represents a 28 percent increase over the amount of back wages the agency collected between 1994 and 2000, Passantino said.
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