No one who works should be paid less than what they are owed. Colorado’s attorney general can and should play a key role in that vital effort because our labor force is the cornerstone of economic strength.
Other states have shown us the value of having an attorney general who enforces the rules and standards that guarantee basic employment rights. As attorney general, I pledge to engage the personnel and resources of my office to protect Colorado’s workforce.
Colorado’s workers are entitled to the right to be paid for a day’s work; the right to receive the minimum wage and any overtime pay or tips that are earned; the right to full payment of promised wages, without illegal deductions; and the right to have state and federal labor standards enforced.
As Coloradans, we have recognized how important these principles are. In 2016, Coloradans voted to raise the state’s minimum wage, with increases implemented over the next three years that far surpass the federal minimum wage — although it is still not enough for a lot of families. In 2014, the governor authorized the Wage Protection Act, giving the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment a better enforcement process to help employees who are denied their rightful wages. And last year, we passed a law requiring wage theft transparency, so that information is now available to the public about employers who are cited for stealing wages.
But there is much more to be done to ensure that our workforce is treated fairly. Coloradans are subjected to an estimated $750 million in wage theft every year. CDLE is on the frontline of this problem, handling the hundreds of individual wage complaints filed every year. But to truly advance fair treatment in Colorado’s workplaces, we need to take action on the broader problems affecting whole sectors of workers. Large portions of our workforce like those employed in the retail, restaurant, hotel and construction industries are particularly vulnerable to violations of labor laws.
As attorney general, I pledge to take a leading role in effectively protecting our workforce. I will start by creating a dedicated labor unit within the Attorney General’s Office. As a statewide agency, the AG’s Office has the authority and resources to conduct long-term investigation and litigation focused on major offenders who have been breaking the law over long periods of time. Enforcement of labor law violations should be undertaken with the same type of statewide, coordinated approach that the AG’s Office could use to approach environmental and consumer protection cases.
A labor unit in the Attorney General’s Office would work in partnership with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment looking for patterns among the agency’s complaints and targeting persistent violators. The unit would also network with union and nonprofit groups, drawing on their expertise about wage theft and their connections to affected communities. These collaborations can lead to valuable evidence about conditions hurting the underemployed, immigrants, and other workers who might be afraid to come forward about illegal treatment by their employers. Several states have robust units within their attorney generals’ offices devoted to actively taking on labor law violators. Colorado should have one, too.
I will also join other attorneys general to take action against unfair employment practices. For example, the AGs in several states, working together, have obtained commitments from numerous national retailers to stop using “on-call” shift scheduling. The system forces workers to forego other jobs and scramble to arrange for child care, with no compensation for keeping themselves available.
A more proactive approach is all the more necessary given cuts to the federal Department of Labor. The current proposal is to cut the DOL’s budget by 20 percent, bringing it to funding levels not seen since the 1970s. In other words, we are likely to see reduced enforcement of federal labor standards in Colorado and nationwide, especially since the DOL plans to focus on enlisting employer cooperation on worker protections, rather than investigating violators and seeking damages.
The Fair Labor Standards Act was one of the most important pieces of legislation to emerge from President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. About 130 million American workers are impacted by it. As Colorado’s attorney general, I will be committed to upholding and strengthening these hard-won rights and ensuring fairness and dignity for all of Colorado’s working men and women.