WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today hosted a roundtable discussion with workers and advocates ahead of Labor Day to help District workers understand their rights and make sure they get the wages and fair treatment they deserve.
AG Racine reinforced how the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) uses its enforcement authority to hold employers accountable when they mistreat workers and to put industry on notice that OAG will go after them if they do not follow workers’ rights laws. He specifically announced a new lawsuit against an area cleaning services company and its owner for failing to pay employees the required minimum wage. Since 2017, OAG has opened over 50 wage theft investigations, and has recovered more than $3.2 million in restitution for workers.
“On Labor Day, we celebrate the hardworking men and women across the District and the country who help keep our communities running,” said AG Racine. “This holiday was created in the late 19th century, at a time when workers were often taken advantage of, not paid enough, and overworked. Many of them faced unsafe working conditions. In the past century, we have made many drastic improvements to our laws to stand up for workers – and the District has some of the strongest workers’ rights laws in the country. But the mistreatment of workers is still all too prevalent. Today, we’re talking about how some workers, especially low-wage workers, are too often taken advantage of by their employers. I’m proud that my office has used lawsuits to hold employers accountable and put others on notice that if they cheat their workers, they will be held accountable. And I appreciate the actions of many organizations and advocates across the District who stand up and give workers the voice they deserve.”
AG Racine led a roundtable discussion with area construction workers and a DoorDash driver who recounted their personal experiences with businesses stealing their wages or tips, or misclassifying them to increase profits at their expense. The event also included Ron Meischker, Director of Industry Labor & Compliance at Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters, who spoke about wage theft and how it impacts workers in the construction industry; Veena Dubal, a law professor at UC Hastings Law School and a national expert on issues facing gig economy workers, who spoke about how technologies have impacted workers; and Yannik Omictin, Labor Program Coordinator with Many Languages One Voice, who spoke about the importance of labor protections for immigrant workers and workers of color.
“Far too often, employers steal the wages of hard-working construction workers, and it is troubling. Sadly, this practice is growing and undermining the construction industry and its workers,” said Ron Meischker, Director of Industry Labor & Compliance at Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters. “Fortunately, AG Racine is a champion on these issues by standing up for District workers and letting employers know they won’t get away with treating workers unfairly. We’re proud to be part of a new working group he is leading on worker misclassification which is bringing together workers, trades, and labor organizations to one table to discuss how to protect workers.”
According to an OAG report, District construction companies that misclassify workers unlawfully avoid at least 16.7% in labor costs, and their savings at the expense of workers can exceed more than 40% if the company engages in other forms of wage theft. On top of this, according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute, low-wage workers have been particularly hard hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, as less than 75% of low-wage workers were still working in 2020. Meanwhile, more than 90% of high-wage workers were still working.
During the discussion, AG Racine spoke about OAG’s new lawsuit against MJ Flooring, an area company that has provided cleaning services to several fire stations in the District, and its owner and president, Miguel Quintanilla. OAG sued them for failing to pay the District’s minimum wage to employees who mopped, swept floors, and disinfected surfaces. At the time of the incidents, the minimum wage was $15 per hour. It is now $15.20 per hour. OAG filed the lawsuit for violating the District’s Minimum Wage Revision Act, which requires all employers who do business in the District to guarantee fair payment to all workers. The lawsuit alleges MJ Flooring and Mr. Quintanilla ignored this requirement and deprived workers of their hard-earned wages. OAG is seeking back wages for the employees and penalties.
A copy of the complaint can be found here.
OAG’s Efforts to Protect Workers
Since gaining independent authority to investigate and bring wage theft cases in 2017, OAG has launched more than 50 investigations into wage theft and payroll fraud. OAG uses its enforcement authority to bring lawsuits and has taken action against a home health care provider, KFC franchises, a cell phone retailer, a café chain, multiple construction companies, a security company, and other businesses that harmed District workers. AG Racine also testified before Congress to highlight findings from an OAG report about how worker misclassification hurts workers, undercuts law-abiding businesses, and cheats taxpayers. In January 2021, OAG secured its largest wage theft settlement to date, requiring Power Design—a major electrical contractor—to pay $2.75 million to hundreds of harmed workers and the District over wage theft and worker misclassification claims.
AG Racine has also worked to hold gig economy companies accountable for following the same laws as brick-and-mortar businesses, including wage and hour laws. OAG sued food delivery service, DoorDash, for its practice of misleading and encouraging consumers to tip for food deliveries, and then pocketing those tips instead of passing them along to workers. OAG recovered $1.5 million in restitution that was returned to DoorDash drivers to replace tips the company kept for itself. OAG has also sued Instacart for including “service fees” on its platform that looked much like a tip for workers, but instead went to profit Instacart.
Background on Protecting Workers’ Rights and Reporting Wage Theft Violations
At OAG, we work every day to stand up for District workers who may not always have a voice, including by fighting wage theft, protecting workers’ rights, and holding employers accountable if they violate District law. Under District law—one of the most progressive workers’ rights laws in the nation—employers who fail to pay their workers, or who do not pay their workers on time, can be liable for up to four times the amount of unpaid wages, plus administrative penalties, attorney’s fees, and costs.
OAG has resources for workers to help protect themselves against unscrupulous employers. The resources, which are available in English and Spanish, include comprehensive information about the District’s wage and hour laws and where workers can get help if their rights are being violated. OAG also provides free wage and hour logbooks, where workers can keep track of their wages and hours and help ensure they actually receive the pay they earn. Workers can print the logbook here.
What is the District’s minimum wage?
As of July 1, 2021, under the District’s wage and hour laws, businesses must pay employees a minimum wage of at least $15.20 per hour, up from the previous minimum wage of $15 per hour.
Who is required to pay minimum wage?
District law requires employers to pay their employees no less than the minimum hourly wage. In the District all employers, with the exception the federal government, are required to abide by the District’s minimum wage laws. The District government, and any individual, partnership, general contractor, subcontractor, association, corporation, business trust, or any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee are all considered “employers.”
Who is entitled to the District’s minimum wage?
Most employees employed in the District are entitled to the District’s minimum wage. An employee’s immigration status does not affect their entitlement to minimum wage.
What is the minimum hourly wage for District employees?
- For Regular Employees: Employees who do not receive gratuities (tips) must be paid at least $15.20 per hour. The regular minimum wage is subject to increases every year on July 1.
- For Salaried Employees: Salaried employees are entitled to receive a salary that is equal to or greater than the amount they would receive if paid hourly at the minimum wage rate.
- For Tipped Employees: Employees who receive gratuities may be paid a lower minimum wage rate of $5.50 per hour, so long as their employer satisfies certain requirements and so long as their wages plus tips add up to at least what the employees would have received if paid for their hours worked at the regular minimum wage rate.
What is the daily minimum wage in the District?
Unless you regularly work a shift that is less than four hours long, your employer must pay you for at least four hours of work for each day you report to work.
What is the “living wage” in the District?
If your employer is a contractor for the District, you may be entitled to a higher minimum wage rate, called the “living wage.” As of July 1, 2021, the living wage is $15.20.
What is the overtime pay rate in the District?
Employers are required to pay their employees 1.5 times their regular wage for overtime hours worked.
Who is entitled to paid sick leave?
Workers are entitled to earn a certain amount of paid sick leave, depending on the size of their employer.
Since 2017, OAG has opened over 50 wage theft investigations, and has recovered more than $3.2 million in restitution for workers.
Reporting Workers Rights Violations:
Tips and complaints from residents are crucial to enabling OAG to do our work to protect workers. If you believe that your rights as a worker have been violated, file a complaint by:
- Calling the OAG Consumer Complaint Hotline at (202) 442-9828.
- Texting (202) 738-5212
- Emailing OAG at Workers@dc.gov or Trabajadores@dc.gov
- Messaging OAG using the chat feature at: https://oag.dc.gov/consumer-protection/submit-consumer-complaint
- Submitting a complaint online at: https://oag.dc.gov/consumer-protection/submit-consumer-complaint