Senate Democrats offer plan to stop Iowa wage theft

Dishonest employers are cheating Iowa workers out of an estimated $600 million annually in wages, and legislation is needed to fix the problem, two Iowa lawmakers alleged Tuesday.

State Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, chairman of the Senate Labor and Business Committee, was joined by Sen. William Dotzler, D-Waterloo, in proposing a bill to strengthen enforcement of wage laws. They cited a 2012 study by the liberal-leaning Iowa Policy Project that calculated the $600 million estimate. That number includes nonpayment and underpayment of wages, violations of tipping laws, unauthorized or illegal paycheck deductions, and misclassification of employees to avoid paying the minimum wage and overtime.

"Iowa's wage theft laws don't protect Iowa workers from being ripped off and don't protect honest businesses who pay their employees," Bisignano said. He called the situation shameful.

State Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City, said Tuesday that he questioned the $600 million annual estimate for wage theft in Iowa, but he agrees wage theft is a problem for some Iowa workers. He said Senate Republicans are willing to work with Democrats on the legislation. He also suggested honest Iowa employers shouldn't be burdened with increased government regulations simply because a few Iowa employers are dishonest.

Bertrand said Republicans are looking at a proposal to increase enforcement of wage laws by Iowa Workforce Development. They are also exploring ways to put tools in place to help employees to get legal advice and other assistance in such cases, he added.

"At the end of the day I think we can come together and find a policy that helps the workers," Bertrand said.

Several Iowa workers spoke at an Iowa Capitol news conference in support of the proposed legislation, saying their employers had not paid them money they honestly earned.

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