Congressman Phil Hare, of the 17th District, recently introduced a bill that would create a new grant program within the Department of Labor. His office says the program will provide resources and assistance to workers centers, legal aid clinics, and other community-based organizations working to stop wage theft, a pervasive issue that hurts employees across the country. In her 2008 book about the topic, Kim Bobo, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice in Chicago, found that some 2 million workers are paid less than the minimum wage, 3 million are wrongly classified as independent contractors instead of employees, and millions more are illegally denied overtime pay.
Hare has followed this issue closely; he co-sponsored legislation in July 2009 meant to provide additional enforcement power for investigators during wage theft inquiries. The issue has gained traction over the last two years in other venues as well. Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis launched a campaign last year to inform workers who've been bilked of their pay about the resources offered by the federal agency. At the state level, Gov. Quinn signed a bill in July that imposes penalities on employers who shortchange or fail to pay their employees.