DES MOINES — One in four low-wage workers in eastern Iowa has experienced wage theft, according to a report published Wednesday.
The advocacy group Iowa Policy Project published the report, which built upon its 2012 study of the same issue.
Unpaid overtime was the most common form of wage theft reported during a 2014 survey of 300 low-wage workers in eastern Iowa. The report defines low-wage work as jobs that pay less than $10 per hour.
The report also said one in five survey respondents reported late or unpaid wages, and 8 percent said they had not been paid at all for the work they had performed.
“It’s often a sort of business model,” Colin Gordon, a history professor at the University of Iowa and an Iowa Policy Project senior research consultant who wrote the report, said on a conference call with reporters. “It’s predominant in restaurants, construction and high-pressure, white-collar jobs.”
The group in 2012 estimated wage theft results in $600 million in stolen wages and $120 million in unpaid taxes each year in Iowa.
The report published Wednesday added new data on wage complaints, including the low-worker survey conducted by the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa.
“This report shows we still need better laws, better enforcement, and greater awareness on the part of employees, employers and all policy makers,” Misty Rebik, executive director of the worker justice center, said in a news release.
Rebik and Gordon recommended stronger laws to punish employers found guilty of wage fraud and more diligent enforcement of the current laws.
“Among state (wage theft) laws, Iowa’s isn’t bad, if we had the enforcement mechanism, if we had more than one-half a (full-time equivalent position) at the wage and hour division,” Gordon said. “Not only could we enforce, but we could go out and audit industries and make a lot of progress that way.”
Democratic state lawmakers in recent years have advanced legislation attempting to curtail wage theft, but the proposals have been met with resistance from Republicans.
The report defines wage theft as a worker not receiving legally owed wages and includes nonpayment and underpayment and tipped job and deduction violations.