Advocates say Garcetti's budget doesn't offer enough resources to stem wage theft

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Local labor advocates say they are disappointed that Mayor Eric Garcetti has only earmarked $2.6 million next year to enforce the rising minimum wage in Los Angeles and ensure that workers aren't being shortchanged.

In his proposed budget, released yesterday, Garcetti said the money would fund 22 staffers in a new Wage Standards Office, but advocates say that wont be enough staff to adequately investigate  claims from workers in Los Angeles, a city known for having higher rates of wage theft than other cities in the U.S.

Currently, the rate of wage theft in Los Angeles is 20 percent higher than the national average, according to the UCLA Labor Center. That equates to one-third of all workers in Los Angeles receiving less than the minimum wage.

“Workers are losing $1.4 billion a year in wage theft violations,” said Scarlett De Leon of the L.A. Coalition Against Wage Theft, which rallied outside of City Hall Tuesday morning, asking the mayor to pony up more money. “We know that only a fully-funded Office of Wage Standards will start to make a dent in the massive problem of wage theft in the city.”

In June of 2015, the city's Bureau of Contract Administration had asked that the new office employ 39 people, and have $2.1 million for community outreach, to be phased in over four years, as the city's minimum wage rose yearly.

"Those of us who study labor and social inequality are very excited that the minimum wage is going up, but we're also very concerned that it's actually going to increase the rate of wage theft,” said Tia Koonse, a researcher at the UCLA Labor Center.

She said the city can't just rely on businesses to do the right thing.

"Are employers all of the sudden going to dig deeper into their pockets to pull out $15 an hour if they aren't pulling out $10 now?" she asked.

The $2.6 million office will employ 22 city workers, many of whom will investigate worker claims that they are being paid less than the minimum wage. Researchers say smaller cities like Seattle and San Francisco have larger departments, with around 25 investigators and $1.4 million in community outreach.

The mayor's office told KPCC it did the best it could in a year when homelessness siphoned much of the city's money.

"The city of Los Angeles has never been involved in this before, and we're really excited about being able to fund it at this level,” said Connie Llanos, Garcetti's communications director.

This being Garcetti's draft budget, Llanos says the mayor is still open to discussing more funding for wage theft programs in the coming months.

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